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Marine’s Charges Stand in Accident

March 26, 1999

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (AP) _ A military judge ruled that prosecutors may proceed with the obstruction of justice case against a Marine navigator accused of destroying a videotape made just before his jet cut a ski gondola cable in Italy last year, killing 20 people.

Prosecutors claim Capt. Joseph Schweitzer, 31, of Westbury, N.Y., destroyed a videotape that he shot before his radar-jamming EA-6B Prowler hit the gondola cable during a low-level training flight last February.

Col. Alvin Keller said Thursday there was sufficient evidence to proceed with the court-martial. Trial is scheduled to begin Monday.

Schweitzer is the second Marine aviator to be tried in the accident. On March 4, a military jury at Camp Lejeune acquitted the jet’s pilot, Capt. Richard Ashby, 31, of Mission Viejo, Calif., of manslaughter and other charges.

Manslaughter counts against Schweitzer were dismissed after the acquittal. But Schweitzer and Ashby both face charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice because of the videotape’s disappearance.

If convicted, Schweitzer could be sentenced to 10 years.

Ashby testified during his trial that Schweitzer filmed the early part of their training flight. After they landed, he gave the tape to Schweitzer and never saw it again, Ashby testified.

In arguing for dismissal, defense lawyers said the aviators couldn’t have known a criminal inquiry would be started when they landed after the accident and couldn’t have conspired to block one.

Prosecutor Maj. Daniel Daugherty said the defense argument was far-fetched.

``They had just screwed up a $50 million airplane,″ Daugherty said. ``To say the only thing aviators think about when they screw up an aircraft is an administrative mishap board ... defies common sense.″

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