Coast Guard Seaman Ethan W. Tucker, right, was charged with killing Seaman Ethan Kelch, left, in Alaska in January 2019. On Thursday, September 17, 2020, a military judge found Tucker not guilty of manslaughter and negligent homicide, but guilty of assault consumed by battery. Tucker was sentenced to discharge for misconduct, reduced to grade E-1 and 14 months in prison. (Facebook)
AUSTIN, Texas – A Coast Guard member charged with causing the January 2019 death of his friend and shipmate in Alaska was found not guilty of the charge in a court martial that ended Thursday .
A military judge from Alameda, Calif., Found Seaman Ethan Tucker, 22, not guilty of manslaughter and negligent homicide in the death of Seaman Ethan Kelch, 19, following the trial of eight days, according to a newspaper. liberation of the Pacific Coast Guard area.
Tucker pleaded guilty to making a false statement, consuming underage alcohol and publishing a general article that included much of the bad behavior that happened that night, Cmdr de Marine. Justin Henderson, Tucker’s defense attorney.
“He was really trying to take responsibility and be accountable for these actions,” said Henderson. “We, the defense, have come up with this plea so that he can take on that level of responsibility.”
The judge convicted Tucker of assault with battery and bodily harm.
Tucker was sentenced to discharge for misconduct, reduced to grade E-1 and 14 months in prison.
Tucker and Kelch were crew members of the Douglas Munro cutter, based in Kodiak, Alaska. While the ship was in port for repairs at Dutch Harbor on the night of January 26, 2019, the two men, along with Seaman Trevin Hunter, left the ship and proceeded to a remote waterfront area. , said Henderson.
“They did a little hike in a remote part of the island where these three guys all got drunk,” he said. “They went there, didn’t tell anyone where [they were] go and had no emergency contact capability. They put themselves in this dangerous situation.
Through Hunter’s testimony and videos from his cell phone, Henderson said he was able to prove that Tucker and Hunter were in fact trying to keep Kelch from getting intoxicated in the freezing water.
“In the first four videos, they are messing around,” he said.
As the videos progress, the jokes stop. The men got serious as they screamed and fought to keep Kelch safe.
As Hunter finally returned to the ship, Tucker collapsed halfway through the ship on the side of a road. People who found him the next morning testified when Tucker woke up he immediately said they had to go back and get Kelch, Henderson said.
Kelch was found unconscious following an aerial and ground search the next day and was later pronounced dead from bleeding in his skull caused by blunt trauma to the head, according to the previously released indictment. by Tucker.
During the sentencing phase of the court martial, Tucker spoke to the Kelch family for the first time since the incident.
“It was extremely moving. It was a wreck. He’s been in this unfulfilled mourning process for a year and a half, ”said Henderson. “I have heard from both families. The trial was a disaster. It was horrible going through this, but at least they can finally start to cry now. “
Kelch was from Virginia Beach, Virginia, according to his obituary. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery last month, according to the cemetery’s website.
Tucker, from Ludington, Michigan, was arrested in August 2019 and he initially faced a murder charge following the incident. Although he pleaded guilty to some of the charges against him, part of the deal called for the prosecution to go ahead with the less serious charges of manslaughter and negligent homicide.
“We were confident. We knew he didn’t kill his boyfriend, ”Henderson said.
Tucker joined the Coast Guard in August 2017, then joined the crew of the Douglas Munro on November 13, 2017, as his first posting after training camp, according to his service record. On June 4, he was reassigned to Coast Guard Base Alameda, California.
He received three days of credit for each of the 85 days he has already spent in the brig, and will be released around January. He will begin his sentence at Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar, where he had previously served pre-trial detention.
While much of the country’s legal system remains on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, the military has continued proceedings with various measures in place to prevent the spread of the virus.
For Tucker’s trial, proceedings were conducted in a large conference room instead of a courtroom so that all participants could stay at least six feet from each other, Henderson said .
Remote viewing locations were set up and space in these observation rooms was limited, according to the Pacific Coast Guard’s Office of Public Affairs. All tables and chairs were wiped clean during each recess and the witness stand was cleaned between each witness. Everyone was also required to wear face coverings.