As hearings set at Camp Lejeune, defense in MARSOC 3 cases claim unlawful command influence

·5 min read
The MARSOC 3
The MARSOC 3

A Navy corpsman and two Marine Raiders facing charges that include negligent homicide and involuntary manslaughter could be exonerated nearly three years later.

U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Eric Gilmet, a Special Operations Independent Duty Corpsman, is one of three Marine Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) service members who hope a military judge will grant their defense’s motion to dismiss all charges this month following their alleged role in the death of a defense contractor.

On Dec. 10, Gilmet’s defense team filed a motion to permanently dismiss all charges and specifications due to unlawful command influence, United American Patriots (UAP) announced in a news release, Dec. 11. According to the release, Gilmet’s defense argues that statements made by a Marine colonel "prejudiced the attorney-client relationship between” Gilmet and his military counsel.

According to the motion to dismiss, Gilmet “has lost trust and confidence in the military justice system” and “doubts” his military counsel’s “ability to effectively represent him without fear of reprisal” due to comments made by Col. Christopher Shaw in a meeting with Camp Lejeune’s Defense Service Office, Nov. 18. At the time, Shaw was the Judge Advocate Division’s Deputy Director, the court filing said.

According to UAP, a nonprofit organization supporting the MARSOC 3, Gilmet’s attorney Capt. Matthew Thomas had asked Shaw a question about protecting military attorneys from outside influences, to which Shaw allegedly responded: “Captain Thomas, I know who you are and what cases you are on, and you are not protected,” the motion said.

“Our community is small and there are promotion boards and the lawyer on the promotion board will know you,” Shaw is quoted as saying in the court filing.

Nick Coffman, communications director at UAP, said Shaw’s remarks in the presence of military attorneys were seen as an intimidation tactic.

“This isn’t just something the defense is jumping on – this is corroborated by multiple sources,” Coffman said, who reports there are a number of sworn affidavits from officers who heard Shaw's comments.

As previously reported by The Daily News, the MARSOC 3 are facing trial for their involvement in an incident that occurred at a club in Iraq in the early morning hours of New Years’ Day 2019.

According to past reports from UAP and the Marine Corps Times, a defense contractor initiated a confrontation with Gilmet and Marines Gunnery Sgt. Daniel Draher and Gunnery Sgt. Joshua Negron before the alleged instigator suffered a knockout blow delivered by Negron.

The contractor, identified as Rick Anthony Rodriguez, was taken back to base by the MARSOC 3, and died days later “of complications stemming from his intoxicated state and from having choked on his own vomit,” UAP said.

In November the first doctor to treat Rodriguez at the hospital in Iraq was deposed in Canada, UAP reported. UAP quotes Negron’s attorney Brian Magee as saying “The deposition highlighted numerous failings in the care provided by the Role II facility during the three hours Mr. Rodriguez was in their care prior to air evacuation to Baghdad.”

Prior coverage: MARSOC 3 trials delayed again due to availability of key foreign witness

The doctor said Rodriguez showed no signs of trauma upon arrival, but did have signs of intoxication and vomit in his airway, according to UAP.

“Prior to Colonel Shaw’s comments and behavior, Captain Thomas would have been able to zealously represent [Gilmet] without any conflict of interest,” the notion said. “However, Colonel Shaw’s statements to Captain Thomas regarding his representation of high profiled cases, coupled with Colonel Shaw’s rank, current billet, and his representative capacity with Judge Advocate Division generated a conflict of interest. Specifically, Colonel Shaw has created a personal interest for Captain Thomas whereby Captain Thomas now has to choose between potential billet assignments and promotion opportunities – in other words, a successful Marine Corps career– and zealously representing CPO Gilmet.”

Coffman said Drahar and Negron are also seeking a dismissal of charges based on unlawful command influence stemming from the same incident and that the defendants' six amendment rights to a speedy trial and public defender have been violated.

In addition to involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide, the MARSOC 3 are charged with obstruction of justice, dereliction of duty and violation of a lawful order. If convicted, they face federal felony convictions, a dishonorable discharge and over 20 years of confinement, according to the motion.

“Simply put, CPO Gilmet’s right to counsel of his own selection – Captain Thomas – was interfered with by Colonel Shaw creating a conflict of interest," said the filing. "In other words, governmental action on the part of Colonel Shaw has questioned CPO Gilmet’s faith in Captain Thomas and has denied CPO Gilmet the right to have Captain Thomas continue to represent him conflict free."

Gilmet’s motion hearing will be Dec. 21 at Camp Lejeune and a separate motion hearing for Draher and Negron will be Wednesday, a MARSOC spokesperson confirmed. Gilmet’s court martial is scheduled for January and the common trial for Draher and Negron is scheduled for April.

“I personally believe that Capt. Thomas is an honorable man and is going to still try to do his best, but when you are looking at 20 years in prison and your life being ruined, I can’t imagine that (Gilmet) is not fearful that his relationship with his attorney that he’s had for years is going to be compromised," Coffman said.

According to Maj. Hector Infante of MARSOC, trials are scheduled to be held at Camp Lejeune, subject to change.

Reporter Calvin Shomaker can be reached at cshomaker@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on The Daily News: Defense counsels in MARSOC 3 cases claim unlawful command influence