Government prosecutors called a former Marine Corps drill instructor as a witness Tuesday who confirmed to the court that he wanted to help the defense of a former colleague accused of abusing recruits.
On the sixth day of testimony in former Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island drill instructor Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Felix’s court-martial, Beaufort resident and former staff sergeant Christopher Minie said he never saw his then-fellow DI hit, choke or kick recruits when they supervised Platoon 3042 in the Spring of 2016.
But, when questioned by prosecutor Lt. Col. John Norman, Minie admitted that he’d refused to meet with the government before the case; that he’d told Norman’s aide that he wanted to help the defense; and that he’d said he didn’t want to be near recruits testifying in this case because he wanted to choke them.
Minie was the experienced drill instructor in 3042 under Felix, the senior drill instructor. Deceased former recruit Raheel Siddiqui belonged to the platoon before leaping nearly 40 feet to his death, which occurred moments after an alleged altercation between the recruit and Felix.
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Felix, facing numerous violations of military law ranging from cruelty and maltreatment to obstruction of justice, has been implicated in that incident and other instances of alleged recruit abuse that reportedly occurred in the summer of 2015. Prosecutors say he targeted three Muslim recruits — Siddiqui among them — during his time training platoons.
The case, which is arguably the Corps’ biggest recruit hazing and abuse scandal in over 60 years, is nearing its end. The government rested its case Tuesday afternoon, and the defense has just a handful of witnesses to call. Closing arguments are expected to begin Wednesday, with a verdict and sentencing to follow.
Tuesday’s testimonies again alleged Felix and other DIs engaging in behavior that deviates from the regulations that guide recruit training on Parris Island.
Minie — who admitted to being accused of misconduct in the broader investigation following Siddiqui’s death, and to choking a recruit with a flashlight — said he’d never seen Felix order the unauthorized punishment exercises he’s accused of directing. And Minie said he’d never heard Felix call Siddiqui a “terrorist.”
Prosecutors asked Minie to review the note that was in Siddiqui’s pants pocket the day he died. The note, written on paper, and with some if its words scratched out, was in a plastic evidence bag. It said that Siddiqui was sick with a sore throat and coughing up blood. Minie said the plan was to take the recruits to morning chow then address Siddiqui’s medical concern.
He said he remembered passing the note to Felix on the morning of Siddiqui’s death.
Staff Sgt. Shawn McGee, also a DI in 3042 at the time, also testified that he’d never heard Felix call Siddiqui, a 20-year-old former resident of Taylor, Mich., a “terrorist.” But McGee did say Felix ordered punishment exercises outside the regulations of Parris Island’s Recruit Training Order.
McGee said that Siddiqui could hardly sound off minutes before his death. As McGee lined up the platoon for chow, Siddiqui could only mouth a hoarse, barely audible, “Eight,” when it was his turn to acknowledge his spot in line.
Back in the barracks after chow, McGee witnessed Felix slap Siddiqui, who was lying unresponsive on the barracks floor after running a series of punitive sprints, moments before the recruit ran out the back of the squadbay and vaulted over the third-floor stairwell.
Witnesses have testified Siddiqui was being forced to run because he couldn’t sound off, and that he clutched his throat while doing the sprints.
“’Wow, what is going on in this moment,’” McGee said, explaining he’d just come from the bathroom at the end of the squadbay when Felix allegedly slapped Siddiqui.
McGee walked past the men and headed toward the front of the barracks to Felix’s office. Once inside, he heard recruits yelling Siddiqui was running, and McGee then ran after him. He didn’t know what was going on, but he thought he could catch up to Siddiqui before he got to the bottom of the stairs.
Lance Cpl. Austin Trausi, the ninth former-3042 recruit to testify Tuesday, said that some time after Siddiqui’s death, Felix gathered the platoon and told the recruits, “What happens in the house stays in the house.”
Felix said that to his platoon in an “SDI circle,” Trausi testified. At the same circle, Trausi said, Felix reminded them about loyalty and how saying the wrong thing to someone could “stab them in the back” and “ruin someone’s career.”
Trausi interpreted Felix to be talking about himself. Felix drove the former recruit to an interview with NCIS on Parris Island, Trausi said. And during the car ride, Trausi said Felix again reminded him that what he might tell investigators could ruin careers.
Other former recruits, such as Lance Cpl. Robert Alterisio, testified that Felix told the platoon, “Marines are like hotdogs: Americans love hotdogs, but nobody wants to know how they’re made.”
Alterisio said he did not interpret that statement as Felix telling him not to talk to investigators.
Felix’s defense counselors have asked each former recruit over the past two days if Felix told them to lie to NCIS investigators; all of them named in The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette have said he did not.
Trausi testified that Felix told 3042, in reference to Siddiqui, that “(Muslims) don’t belong in the Marine Corps” and that they “were allowing terrorists in the Marine Corps.”
Siddiqui said he wanted to die by jumping out of a barracks window several days before he leapt over the stairwell. He was evaluated by a mental health professional and returned to training, according to the Corps.
McGee said that when Siddiqui came back from “medical,” Felix told him and the other DIs to “ease” the recruit back into training.
“Something (with Siddiqui) was off,” McGee said Tuesday.
Prosecutors asked McGee if slapping a recruit — for the purposes of reviving him — was a life-saving technique taught at the Drill Instructor School. McGee said it was not. DIs are taught to perform CPR and call medical personnel, McGee said.
Some former recruits have testified that it appeared Felix slapped Siddiqui in order to revive the unresponsive recruit. None of them saw him attempt to perform CPR, nor did McGee.
Alterisio remembers Siddiqui running sprints through the squadbay holding his neck moments before his death. But he tried to focus on his own morning tasks.
“In boot camp,” he said, “you don’t stare at the situation unless you want to join the situation.”