Fatal stabbing of Camp Pendleton Marine was a tragic accident, defense argues in preliminary hearing
CAMP PENDLETON — A stabbing that resulted in the death of Pfc. Ethan Barclay-Weberpal at the hands of a fellow Marine and friend was a tragic accident linked to playing around with a knife, a defense attorney argued in a hearing Thursday, March 22.
Pfc. Raymond W. Begay, 20, facing charges of murder and obstruction of justice, appeared before Preliminary Hearing Officer Maj. Christian Hur on Thursday in a Camp Pendleton courtroom, as his father and grandfather sat in attendance.
Barclay-Weberpal’s father, Scott Weberpal, and other family members, listened via teleconference.
The hearing — known as an Article 32 in the Uniform Code of Military Justice — allows the defense and prosecution to introduce evidence and arguments. After hearing evidence against Begay, Hur will make a recommendation to the convening authority — Lt. Col Dennis Hager, commanding officer of Headquarters and Support Battalion at School of Infantry West — as to what level of court-martial should be implemented and whether the charges should remain as they are.
Both sides also are required to submit written arguments to Hur by Monday.
Barclay-Weberpal, 18, of Janesville, Wis., died after being stabbed while sitting in formation among a platoon of Marines at about 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 16, at the School of Infantry at Camp Pendleton.
Begay immediately admitted to training instructors that he stabbed Barclay-Weberpal, witnesses testified.
“This was just dumb kids doing dumb things,” testified defense witness Pfc. Rhett Glubka. “I don’t think he (Begay) thought about what could have happened.”
Glubka, 24, who described Barclay-Weberpal as a “little brother,” testified that he was sitting in a chair near bleachers where Barclay-Weberpal and Begay were sitting.
“I heard a big commotion and saw someone stand up. I saw blood and I heard people say, ‘Get out of the way,’ ” Glubka said. “Then I saw him (Barclay-Weberpal) make it down to the duty hut and collapse and then someone said, ‘Call a corpsman.’ ”
Lance Cpl. Gavin Shorter testified that he was behind Begay when the stabbing occurred. “No one thought he was seriously wounded,” Shorter said. “There was no scream or anything.”
Shorter, who said that he, Begay and Barclay-Weberpal were good friends, testified that he saw Begay reach over Barclay-Weberpal’s right shoulder and place the knife into the left side of Barclay-Weberpal’s chest.
“After he pulled out the knife, he exited the bleachers,” Shorter said. “Barclay-Weberpal stood up and we could see blood coming from his chest. People on the left and right tugged at his blouse to cover up the bleeding. We didn’t think it was fatal and we didn’t want to get into trouble. After we got out of formation, we were going to help him.”
Shorter said Begay was known to play with knives and in some cases had made stabbing motions at inanimate objects such as mattresses and lockers. He described Begay as a level-headed kid — a “solid Marine.” He also said Begay appeared pale and scared and “just shook-up” after the incident.
“I don’t believe it was intentional, sir,” he answered Maj. Nelson Candelario, one of three members of Begay’s defense team. “There was no anger, no argument, no conflict. We were all good friends.”
Shorter testified that Begay was playing around with a knife before he stabbed Barclay-Weberpal.
Maj. Tanzania Jaysura, lead trial prosecutor, questioned Glubka and Shorter on specifics such as what kind of knife Begay had used and exactly where they sat in relation to Barclay-Weberpal and Begay.
She said she had testimony from at least three other Marines who said Begay was known to have threatened to stab other Marines and that some had told him to stop because it made them uncomfortable. She said she also had testimony showing Begay left the bleacher area after the stabbing to wash blood from his knife.
“The knife was not the type of knife that retracts and opens to the front and witnesses will say they saw him play with the knife before the stabbing and that words were exchanged and that he intentionally put the knife into Barclay-Weberpal’s left chest, into his heart,” Jaysura said.
“The left ventricle of his heart was punctured with only one stab wound,” she said. “It was a deep puncture wound. We believe we established probable cause. The stabbing motion took the life of 18-year-old Marine Pfc. Barclay-Weberpal. “This was not his first rodeo. Rather than getting help, he went to put the knife away — that’s where we believe we have obstruction of justice.”
Candelario argued that the prosecution’s evidence does not establish the charge of murder and pushed for involuntary manslaughter.
“What this is, is gross recklessness,” he said. “He has admitted every step of the way that he is responsible. He’s been unbelievably forthright to law enforcement. He said, ‘This is the knife. I’m responsible.’ ”Barclay-Weberpal’s father said after the hearing that he was glad the public could hear his son’s death was not the result of a fight.
“Now that the name of the accused is out, I hope that his family is given the privacy and respect they deserve because they are going through a difficult time just as we are and that people keep them in their thoughts and prayers the same way they have with our family,” Weberpal said.