Monday, April 30, 2007
7 News Investigations: Death and Dishonor
If you are a marine, you expect support from the Marines, and you expect to be attacked by the enemy -- but never by the marines. However, that is exactly what is happening to one marine, according to his family. A Marine killed while on duty, a Marine now being targeted by his bosses. Patrick Fraser has this special investigation tonight -- a report we call Death and Dishonor.
WSVN -- They like to say they are the few, the proud, and the marines have a right to brag -- but not about this.
Geoff Cohen: "I think the marines should be ashamed."
Geoff Cohen is a Broward County Judge now fighting to clear the name of his nephew Cpl. Jonathon Cohen.
Geoff Cohen: "He was a member of the two most elite infantry units the Marines have. He was both a sniper and a force re-con member when he died."
One of the best the Marines had -- then Cohen's Humvee slid off the road during a training exercise at Camp Lejune.
As these black and white pictures show, it rolled on top of him and killed him.
Geoff Cohen: "It's a young man, died at the age of 23 in a tragic accident."
His death is a tragedy, and, after the Marines got through determining what caused the accident, his family says it became a travesty.
Geoff Cohen: "To be guilty of misconduct and to not to have died in the line of duty."
The military ruled Cohen was guilty of misconduct for several reasons: that he caused the accident, that he was not wearing a seat belt and that he was not licensed to drive.
Geoff Cohen: "Well, we knew that was total horse crap. We knew it was ridiculous and absurd."
Ridiculous because the sergeant riding with Cohen in the Humvee that day testified he was wearing a seat belt. The Marines ignored his testimony.
Geoff Cohen: "They found that unworthy of belief and, when, he refused to change his story after the third statement, they brought him up on charges."
The charges were later dropped when the sergeant needed to go to Iraq.
The Marines also said the autopsy showed there were no marks on Cohen's body, indicating he was not wearing a seat belt.
Dr. Joshua Perper: "No, I see no evidence of misconduct."
Broward Medical Examiner Joshua Perper was asked to do an independent investigation; he concluded the military is wrong about the seat belt marks.
Dr. Joshua Perper: "Well, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. It's well known to forensic pathologists that, from time to time, you may see an individual who wears a seat belt, and we see absolutely no marks on the body."
The military also concluded Cohen did not have a valid driver's license because his New Jersey driver's license had expired in 2003.
You didn't need an expert to refute that.
When the Marines returned Cohen's property, his license clearly showed it expired in 2007.
Geoff Cohen: "It's obviously sloppiness and lack of attention to detail."
The military then determined the accident was Cohen's fault, that he drove off the road when the vehicle ahead of him stopped, but they would not let the Cohen family examine the vehicle.
Miles Moss: "This accident was not caused by driver error."
At the family's request, Miles Moss, a transportation engineer, looked at the military's own reports. He believes a faulty brake caused the Humvee to slide off the highway.
Miles Moss: "Due to poor maintenance of the vehicle, the left front brake did not hold as much as the other brakes."
Cohen's Humvee did not have a driver's door at the time.
Moss's conclusion: If the 23-year-old was not wearing a seat belt, as the military claims, he probably would have been thrown away from the Humvee.
Miles Moss: "If he was not wearing his seat belt, he probably would have stayed away from the vehicle, and he may very well have survived this accident."
Patrick Fraser: "Two other experts also looked at this case; they agreed the military findings are clearly wrong. So why would the Marines insult and try to shame a man who fought in Iraq, who won nine medals including a presidential citation? The family believes there are two reasons: To cover up the fact commanding officers are putting Marines in unsafe vehicles, and to follow a defense department order to cut accidental deaths during training in half."
Geoff Cohen: "And by finding my nephew guilty of misconduct, by finding that he died as a result of misconduct, this death, this statistic, is not to be included in those involving people dying in the line of duty."
Several congressional leaders in South Florida have asked that the military record be corrected.
The family wants his name cleared.
It's not about money -- they have signed documents promising not to sue. It's about something the Marines are well versed in: Honor.
Geoff Cohen: "My family loves the Marines and the creed and has tremendous respect for the sacrifice of the privates and corporals and sergeants. I got a problem with the brass, who would subject this deceased combat veteran to this sort of treatment."
Jonathon Cohen went to Iraq and fought for his country. Now his family, led by Judge Cohen, is fighting the very Marines he loved to restore his name.
Geoff Cohen: "The only thing the family has got left is our thoughts of the reputation and character of my nephew and their son, and I'll be damned if they are going to protect their career by dumping on my nephew."
An honorable marine who does not deserve to be dishonored in death.