Airman pleads guilty during 'Trust' court martial|
by Debbie Aragon
55th Wing Public Affairs
7/26/2010 - OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. (AFNS) -- A member of the 55th Communications Squadron here pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter and knowingly providing false information to a peace officer during his judge-alone court martial July 20.
After accepting the plea of Airman 1st Class Corey Hernandez, Military Judge Lt. Col. Nancy J. Paul sentenced Airman Hernandez to five years in confinement, reduction in grade to airman basic and a dishonorable discharge. The case now goes to the convening authority, Lt. Gen. Glenn Spears, the 12th Air Force commander, for review and approval.
The case stems from the Dec. 11, 2009, shooting death of Senior Airman Michael Garcia, a 23-year-old member of the 55th Operations Support Squadron.
"This is another example of how drinking alcohol and a series of bad decisions resulted in devastating consequences," said Brig. Gen. John N.T. Shanahan, the 55th Wing commander. "This was a senseless tragedy in every sense of the term. The feedback I received from wing first sergeants and directly from our Airmen was that this so-called 'game' was an isolated case.
"We cannot forget the golden rules of weapons safety," he said. "As every hunter or security force Airman understands, you never point a gun at an animal or a person unless you intend to kill."
According to testimony presented at trial, the death occurred after a night of drinking alcohol and engaging in irresponsible acts by several friends including Airman Garcia and Airman Hernandez.
"All of the people there were friends," Airman Hernandez testified. "The whole night was reckless acts ... drinking, messing around with something I didn't know much about."
The night began harmlessly enough with a small group of friends having dinner and a few alcoholic drinks at a local restaurant, several Airmen testified. The drinking continued in one apartment where Airman Garcia brandished his 40-caliber handgun to show off a new laser sight on the weapon.
According to testimony, Airman Garcia pointed the weapon and its laser sight inside and outside the apartment and at the heads and chins of several of his friends.
It was also here that "Trust" was introduced to those in the apartment, although according to testimony this wasn't the first time those there had heard of it. Several witnesses testified Airman Garcia had taken part in the game previously after he learned about it while deployed to an overseas location with Marines.
According to reports, the game of "Trust" usually involves a weapon and dummy or live rounds. The weapon, either loaded or unloaded, is then pointed at people who are asked "Do you trust me?" After hearing the response, the person holding the weapon then pulls the trigger. It is believed at least five military members have died as a result of the game.
At some point in the evening, three Airmen, including Airmen Garcia and Hernandez, transitioned to Airman Garcia's apartment in the same complex to continue drinking and get something to eat, according to the testimony.
It was in this apartment Airman Hernandez said he asked to see Airman Garcia's weapon "to take a look at it because I have never really been around (guns)."
Airman Garcia took the weapon out of his waist band and placed it on a kitchen counter, according to testimony.
Airman Garcia then told Airman Hernandez to pick it up.
After picking up the weapon, the testimony revealed that Airman Garcia then told Airman Hernandez to "Pull it, pull it," meaning the trigger. At this time, Airman Hernandez, with the gun 2 to 3 feet away from Airman Garcia, pulled the trigger, shooting his friend in the face.
Asked by the judge why he pulled the trigger, Airman Hernandez said, "I trusted him; I'd seen him doing it earlier that night, and I trusted him. Even though I saw him load (the gun), I didn't know there was a bullet in the chamber."
Airman Hernandez testified he initially lied to Bellevue Police Department officials, who responded to the scene, saying Airman Garcia actually shot himself.
Airman Hernandez faced additional lesser charges included Uniformed Code of Military Justice offenses that were dismissed based on his guilty pleas, acceptance of the pleas by the court and sentencing as per the pretrial agreement signed by the convening authority, the defense counsel and Airman Hernandez . Under the pretrial agreement, the 21-year-old Airman could have received no more than seven years confinement, a dishonorable discharge, reduction to airman basic and forfeiture of all pay and allowances.
Because the events occurred off base, the case was originally in the local jurisdiction. It was transferred to the Air Force military justice system at the request of the Air Force.