Monday, August 13, 2007
7 News Investigations: Death and Dishonor, Part 2
There is nothing worse for a military family than the death of a soldier. But for one family it got even worse when the Marines concluded one of their finest was guilty of misconduct. That's when they decided to fight back. Now the battle is over, and the Marines are admitting they made a mistake. Here's Patrick Fraser with an update on his report Death and Dishonor.
WSVN -- Jonathon Cohen was a Marine's Marine.
Geoff Cohen: "He was a member of the two most elite infantry units the Marines have. He was both a sniper and a force recon member when he died."
And when the Iraqi war veteran died the Marines honored him by accusing him of misconduct.
Geoff Cohen: "I think the Marines should be ashamed."
Geoff Cohen is a Broward Circuit Court judge who joined his brother, Jonathan's father, to clear the young Marine's name.
Geoff Cohen: "It was not something we were going to accept. When my brother and I read that report we knew it was lies, distortions and just something awful."
Something awful that came after Cohen's Humvee slid off the road during a training exercise at Camp Lejune in 2005.
As these black and white pictures show, it rolled on top of corporal Cohen and killed him. It was a tragedy, and, after the Marines completed their 645-page report, his family says it turned into a travesty.
Geoff Cohen: "To be guilty of misconduct and to not have died in the line of duty."
The military ruled Cohen was guilty of misconduct because he was not wearing a seat belt, that he was driving recklessly and that he did not have a valid driver's license.
Geoff Cohen: "Well, we knew that was total horse crap, we knew it was ridiculous and absurd."
And when the family started investigating earlier this year they were stunned at what they found.
For example, the sergeant riding with Corp. Cohen in his Humvee testified that Cohen was wearing a seat belt. When the sergeant refused to lie, he was brought up on charges.
Dr. Joshua Perper: "No, I see no evidence of misconduct."
Judge Cohen then asked Broward medical examiner Joshua Perper to review the same evidence the military investigators used. His conclusion, Cohen was wearing a seat belt and did not cause the accident.
Dr. Joshua Perper: "I thought that the military conclusion were based on a great deal of speculation, and they were not justified by the objective facts."
Three other experts including, Miles Moss, a prominent transportation engineer, also looked at the military's own evidence. Moss determined a faulty brake on the Humvee and not Corp. Cohen caused the vehicle to slide off the road.
Miles Moss: "Due to poor maintenance of the vehicle, the left front brake did not hold as much as the other brakes."
And some of the military's findings bordered on absurd. They accused Corp. Cohen of not having a valid driver's license. But in his belongings returned to his father they sent his valid New Jersey driver's license.
Geoff Cohen: "It's obviously sloppiness and lack of attention to detail."
Patrick Fraser: "Sloppiness but serious because it meant a dead Marine would forever be labeled guilty of misconduct, so the family fought back."
They gathered their findings and created their own report and sent it to the Pentagon along with a copy of our story on their findings. They also enlisted the aide of a several South Florida politicians and, this summer, they heard from the Pentagon. Their conclusion, they had a made a mistake.
Geoff Cohen: "Reversed the adverse line of duty determination and specifically found that my nephew Jon died in the line of duty."
The Marines disagree with judge Cohen's conclusion that they reversed themselves. They told me the report was not re-opened that 18 months after it was finished.
Four months after the Cohen family started complaining, the deputy Commandant concluded Corp. Cohen did die in the line of duty and therefore was not guilty of misconduct. Judge Cohen calls it an eloquent way to cover up incompetence.
Patrick Fraser: "They were quick to point out that they did not reverse their findings at all."
Geoff Cohen: "Well, clearly they did."
In fact, the Marines own rules say that the 645-page report must be sustained unless there is a determination a substantial error occurred. And Judge Cohen says, in this case, the Marines are admitting they blew it.
Geoff Cohen: "In other words, he had to find there were serious and substantial errors and inaccuracies in the report, as we suspected all along, and we in fact proved."
Cohen and his family won; Jonathon's name is restored.
Geoff Cohen: "It's a real sense of accomplishment to have overturned the findings of this line-of-duty determination on the highest level, and I give the Marines credit for doing that."
And the family wants to make it clear this was a battle with the brass who run the Marines not the men and women who fight as Marines. And like Jonathon, who died as a Marine.
Patrick Fraser: "He liked being a Marine, obviously."
Geoff Cohen: "He loved it, he loved it. You know, my brother once said that he wasn't a perfect kid, but he was a perfect Marine."
And now a Marine that can be honored in death.