A military jury found a U.S. Army sergeant not guilty on Monday of negligent homicide in the death of a Chinese-American soldier who officials say killed himself in Afghanistan after enduring hazing and racial slurs.
Sergeant Adam Holcomb, 30, was the first of eight soldiers from the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division based in Alaska to face a court-martial in connection with Private Danny Chen's death in October 2011.
The military panel that heard Holcomb's case in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, found him guilty of maltreatment and assault, but acquitted him of both negligent homicide and harassment, base spokesman Thomas McCollum said.
The 10-member jury of officers and enlisted soldiers is set to recommend a sentence on Tuesday. Holcomb faces up to 2-1/2 years in prison, and the final decision on his punishment rests with the commander of the 18th Airborne Corps.
Chen, 19, killed himself by gunshot in a guard tower in southern Afghanistan, where military prosecutors said the weeks of physical mistreatment and racial prejudice he encountered from his superiors pushed him to take his own life.
Holcomb's attorneys argued that Chen committed suicide because he was struggling as an infantryman and had been disowned by his parents for joining the Army - a claim backed by fellow soldiers but denied by Chen's mother and father from the witness stand last week.
Chen, the only Chinese-American in his unit, was born in New York and raised in the city by his immigrant parents. The case prompted activists to call for more protections against abuse for Asian-American service members, who make up 4 percent of the active duty U.S. military.
Holcomb, who pleaded not guilty to all the charges, was accused of referring to Chen by racially derogatory names such as "dragon lady," "Jackie Chen" and "egg roll."
According to testimony, Holcomb also caused injuries to Chen's back by dragging him across gravel after the lower-ranked soldier left a water pump on in a shower at the remote combat outpost where Chen began his first deployment in August 2011.
A fellow soldier testified that in a separate incident hours before he killed himself, Chen was forced to crawl to a guard tower as punishment while several non-commissioned officers threw rocks at him and yelled, "Incoming!"
The New York chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans, which represents Asian-Americans, on Monday called for Holcomb to receive the maximum punishment and a dishonorable discharge.
"There is no place in the Army for a leader who discriminates against a subordinate with such reckless disregard for human life," said Elizabeth OuYang, president of the organization.