Judge reprimands Marine captain convicted in heat-related death
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (AP) – A Marine captain convicted of charges stemming from the heat-related death of a reservist received a reprimand Sunday and was ordered to forfeit $3,600 in future pay.
A military judge, Lt. Col. Ralph Kohlmann, found Capt. Victor Arana guilty of dereliction of duty and failure to obey an order. He could have sentenced Arana to as much as nine months in prison and dismissed him from the Marines.
Arana’s attorney had argued that Arana’s career as a Marine officer was effectively over and that he shouldn’t be dismissed from the service as well.
”His promotion has been taken away. He has a federal conviction that will follow him the rest of his life,” attorney Mark Stevens said. ”A dismissal in this case would be grossly disproportionate to the actions he’s been convicted of.”
Arana, 28, of Chicago, was charged in the death of Lance Cpl. Giuseppe ”Joey” Leto, 21, of New Milford, Conn., who died following a July 7 night march in 80-degree heat.
After the sentencing, Stevens said he expects Arana to resign when his active service ends in December, if not before. In the meantime, he said, Arana will be on administrative duty at Camp Lejeune and will not be in a command position.
Leto’s mother, Domenica Leto, said she was satisfied with the verdict.
”He will not be in charge of any other Marines … he will be pushing papers,” she said.
During the sentencing hearing, Arana had asked for forgiveness from Leto’s family and his fellow Marines. Facing the Leto family, he read a statement expressing deep remorse for reservist’s death.
”Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him,” Arana said, as Leto’s relatives sobbed. ”I would do or give anything to be able to bring him back. Many nights I have lain awake haunted by the memories of my own inactions during the march on July 7.”
Arana said Leto’s death and his conviction are burdens he will carry the rest of his life. His pregnant wife, Betty, sat behind him, when the sentence was read.
”On July 7, my inactions failed both my students and my staff. For that, I am sorry,” Arana said. ”I never intended for anyone to get hurt. It is my hope that the Leto family will someday be able to forgive me.”
Prosecutors said Arana violated standard operating procedures for conditioning hikes and showed a careless disregard for his men. Maj. Chris Hamilton had asked the judge for Arana’s dismissal.
Defense attorneys argued that Arana was a rookie company commander in charge of the unit for only 16 days, didn’t receive proper instructions from his superiors, and had delegated authority as allowed by military procedure.
”There was a general failure … there was a failure at the school of infantry, there was a failure by his staff, and he stands alone at this court martial to pay the ultimate price,” Stevens said.
Before Arana read his statement, the defense called two sergeants who had served with Arana when he was a platoon commander and lieutenant. Both said they never saw Arana mistreat his troops.
”I believe he’s an excellent leader,” said Sgt. Eric Cline. ”I would serve with him in any capacity, in combat or otherwise.”