Lieutenant Colonel Colby C. Vokey has been fired as Regional
Defense Counsel for West Coast Marines for reportedly assigning too
many defense attorneys to the Haditha and Hamandiyah defendants. Vokey
was one of three regional defense attorneys charged by the Marine
Corps with supervising the defense teams within the various commands
of the Marine Corps. He is currently defending Staff Sergeant Frank
Wuterich against 17 charges of unpremeditated murder at Haditha, Iraq.
Marine Corps Brigadier General David M. Brahms is among the lawyers
enmeshed in the Haditha murder investigation who have exploded into
anger over the firing.
pissed,” Brahms said. “The danger here is not malevolence; it is the
appearance of evil and the effect upon those in the defense bar.”
is a Harvard Law School graduate who climbed through Marine Corps
ranks after completing the Platoon Leaders Course to become the
Director of the Judge Advocate Division for three years prior to his
retirement in 1988.
was fired by Colonel Rose M. Favors, the Command Defense Counsel of
the entire Marine Corps. She reports to the Staff Judge Advocate.
Favors reportedly fired Vokey for allowing each of the defendants in
the Haditha and Hamandiyah murder and dereliction of duty cases to
have more the one Marine Corps lawyer assigned to represent them.
Favors reportedly told Vokey that assigning so many defense lawyers
was unnecessary for them to receive adequate representation.
least a dozen civilian and military defense attorneys have been in
communication deciding whether to join in a letter being circulated
for endorsements and signatures decrying Favors action. Three
attorneys who sought temporary anonymity said they will sign a
prepared missive demanding an end to undue command influence in the
judicial process. In part the strongly worded letter demands the end
of inappropriate command influence before it corrupts the defense
process so badly it cannot adequately function.
Marines charged with crimes alleged in the Haditha incident are still
waiting to discover their fate. In addition to Wuterich facing 17
counts of unpremeditated murder, Lance Cpl. Stephan Tatum is waiting
to discover if Mattis will follow his Investigating Officer’s
recommendation to dismiss multiple counts of murder against him. Three
officers charged with dereliction of duty at Haditha are in various
stages of the judicial process. All of them have Marine Corps and
civilian attorneys representing them.
3rd Battalion, 1st Marines commanding officer
Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani faces the most serious situation among the
four officers originally charged with professional malfeasance.
Chessani is waiting to discover if Mattis will order him to stand
general courts-martial for five counts of dereliction of duty. His
Investigating Officer Col. Christopher Conlin has recommended he stand
trial on all the charges. Capt. Randy Stone, formerly the battalion
SJA, and LCpl Justin Sharratt, a SAW gunner, have been cleared of all
Vokey and Brahms have earned the ire of their more conservative
colleagues on a number of issues since the Marine Corps became
involved in prosecuting and defending foreign terrorists and fighting
Marines at the same time. Vokey got worldwide attention at Guantanamo
Bay, Cuba while defending a terrorist before a hearing officer there.
Vokey reportedly erupted in frustration, shouting, "Every time we come
down here there is an incredible burden just to do my job. There are
no rules here."
than one occasion Brahms has bashed Marine Corps participation in the
Guantanamo Bay proceedings. On September 7, 2004 Brahms and seven
other retired officers wrote an open letter to President George W.
Bush expressing their concern over the number of allegations of abuse
of prisoners in U.S. military custody.
Haditha case, Brahms represented former 3/1 officer Lt. William Kallop
during his testimony. Kallop is the officer who ordered a squad of
Marines to assault a series of homes where 19 of the 24 Iraqis who
were killed. Kallop was granted testimonial immunity, meaning anything
he tells the attorneys cannot later be used to prosecute him for any
stretched legal system
disparate demands on the Marine Corps’ modest legal structure has
stretched the Corps’ resources to the limits, several lawyers said.
For example, Lt. Col. Sean Sullivan, who is prosecuting Wuterich, is a
Chicago-based reservist who is a partner in private practice in the
Windy City. On the defense side, each SJA carries a large case load.
Their circumstances are further exacerbated because each Marine
defendant needs at least two Marine Corps trial attorneys to counter
the numbers the prosecution fields
prosecution enjoys a built-in home court advantage. In addition to
enjoying the services of the most experienced trial attorneys among
the SJAs, the prosecution can call upon the resources of Naval
Criminal Investigative Service investigators, other federal law
enforcement officials, and apparently unlimited funds to travel
world-wide interviewing witnesses and otherwise investigating
frequently specious allegations.
Attorney Kevin B. McDermott, who represents Capt. Lucas McConnell,
said Favors’ decision – particularly her timing – is prejudicial to
the performance of the defense lawyers – particularly active duty
Marines – who must serve two masters.
Currently the Article 32 investigation of Staff Sergeant Frank
Wuterich is underway at Camp Pendleton. He is represented by Vokey and
Maj. Haytham Faraj, who simultaneously defended Cpl. Trent Thomas in
the unrelated Hamandiyah murder investigation.
the second time in as many months as Marine lawyers defending Marines
at Camp Pendleton have gotten angry over matters curiously similar to
inappropriate command influence. Charges have also been hurled in
hearing rooms as well when the defense and prosecution lawyers wrangle
over allegedly extralegal antics.
week Sullivan pointed the finger and later apologized last week for
accusing defense attorney Maj. Haytham Faraj of unethical conduct
during Wuterich’s Article 32 hearing at Camp Pendleton.
salvo was fired when Investigation Officer Lt. Col. Paul Ware accused
Lt. Gen. J. N. Mattis’ senior legal advisor Lt. Col. Bill Riggs of
making "inappropriate and imprudent" comments during his investigation
of LCpl Stephan Tatum. Riggs is a senior legal adviser to the general
overseeing the prosecution of five Marines charged in the slayings.
recusal came after he contacted Lt. Col. Paul Ware, the investigating
officer who had reviewed evidence against another Marine facing murder
charges. Riggs allegedly criticized the officer for being too
stringent in assessing the government's case against Lance Cpl. Justin
Sharratt. Sharratt was later exonerated by Mattis.
believed my report ... adjudicated facts like in a trial and was
interpreted by some as a declaration that Lance Cpl. Sharratt is
innocent," Ware wrote in an Aug. 1 e-mail to several attorneys. "I
viewed Lt. Col. Riggs' comments as inappropriate and imprudent. ... I
was ... offended and surprised by this conversation."
also heard the evidence against Tatum; ultimately recommending the
dismissal of all the charges against him as well.
never was available for comment. He recused himself from the Tatum
case "to make sure there was no appearance of impropriety," Marine
spokesman Lt. Col. Sean Gibson said.
Sullivan, who is prosecuting Wuterich, may eventually face some heat
of his own for how and why star prosecution witness LCpl Humberto
Mendoza managed to get transferred to Sullivan’s Chicago-based reserve
unit as a driver after he was granted immunity. The defense also wants
to know if Sullivan intervened in making Mendoza’s immigration
problems disappear. Last week Mendoza stumbled his way through a day
of testimony under Sullivan’s tutelage.
point during cross-examination Vokey tried to discover if Mendoza’s
civilian attorneys had ever made any deals with the prosecution. An
unidentified female representing herself as Mendoza’s civilian
attorney from Philadelphia rose from the gallery to speak, but was cut
off by multiple objections from Sullivan. The answer was left hanging
when Ware called for a recess. Later on one of the defense attorneys
was heard to mutter, “This isn’t the end of that.”
finally, the defense wants to know if Mendoza’s lawyers allowed their
client to be interviewed by prosecutor’s hunting for a “perfect
witness’ before they decided to grant him immunity and provide him the
alleged benefits of serving in Chicago instead of staying at Camp
Pendleton where he was easily accessible. If they did than Mendoza’s
remarkable about face against his former squad mates could be more
Meanwhile, the saga continues.
Nathaniel R. Helms
Defend Our Marines 5