A Georgia judge dropped misdemeanor battery charges Thursday against one of two Beaufort Marines accused of attacking a gay man in June in downtown Savannah.
At the conclusion of a two-hour preliminary hearing, Chatham County Recorder's Court Judge Claire Cornwell-Williams ruled there was no evidence the Marine participated in the June 12 attack.
The hearing, twice delayed to allow defense attorneys and prosecutors more time to review evidence, featured testimony from investigators, the victim and one of the victim's friends.
"There is no probable cause to charge him with battery," Cornwell-Williams said.
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Cornwell-Williams said she would review surveillance video of the attack to determine whether the Marine will be charged with a city or state disorderly conduct charge for his part in an argument investigators say led to the attack.
The Marines were charged with misdemeanor battery for allegedly punching the man in the back of the head during an argument near the intersection of Congress and Bull streets.
The Beaufort Gazette and The Island Packet typically do not name people charged with misdemeanor crimes or their victims.
Cornell-Williams determined there was enough evidence to merit charges against the second Marine.
His attorney, Steven Beauvais of Savannah, said there is no more evidence against his client than against the other Marine who was exonerated Thursday.
"This charge is based entirely on circumstantial evidence," Beauvais said. "No one saw the victim get hit, and (during the argument) my client said nothing. ... There is still no medical evidence to suggest he had ever been hit."
The victim testified Thursday that he does not know who hit him and that he remembers only feeling a sharp pain in the back of his head and waking up at Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah hours later.
"I don't know who struck me," he said.
The Marine will be tried in Chatham County State Court, though no trial date has been set, according to authorities.
Master Sgt. Chad McMeen, spokesman for Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, said Thursday's ruling changes little for military officials. The Marines are assigned to different F-18 Hornet squadrons at the air station.
"We're going to wait and see what the outcome of this is," McMeen said.
If military investigators deem the crime serious enough, the two could face court-martial, he said. The Marines will remain restricted to barracks until all charges are resolved.
The FBI announced last week that U.S. Department of Justice officials in Washington, D.C., decided not to prosecute the two Marines on federal hate crime charges.