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Jurnalul.ro Vechiul site Old site English Version Shock After American Court Ruled US Marine Not Guilty Of Killing Romanian Bass Player

Shock After American Court Ruled US Marine Not Guilty Of Killing Romanian Bass Player

de Alex Cristea    |    02 Feb 2006   •   00:00
Shock After American Court Ruled US Marine Not Guilty Of Killing Romanian Bass Player

A US military court in Quantico, Virginia, ruled the US Marine Christopher Van Goethem was not guilty of manslaughter when he rammed his SUV into a taxi, 14 months ago, killing Romanian bass player Teo Peter.

Tuesday morning the military court ruled that Peter did not die in the accident of 4 December 2004 downtown Bucharest and found Van Goethem not guilty of manslaughter and adultery. At the same time it ordered Van Goethem to receive a written reprimand for obstruction of justice and false statements. He will keep his military rank, his salary and his job.

Not only the defense team, but also the prosecutors contributed to this startling result. The prosecutors were unable to counter the arguments of the defense team that Peter was neither riding the taxi, nor died in the subsequent accident.

The prosecuting team failed to bring in instrumental witnesses to assessing the effects of the car accident: the taxi driver, the driver of the ambulance taking Peter’s body away from the crash-scene, the firefighter who got him out of the damaged taxi, and the policeman arriving first at the scene.

The defense team managed to make the court reject as exhibit Peter’s death certificate issued by the forensic institute in Bucharest, or rather to accept it while leaving out the location and circumstances of Peter’s death.

Adultery was ruled out by a similar strategy. Though Ilse Wentworth testified she had sexual relations with the defendant even during the night of the accident, the defense managed to strike out her testimony stating that she was not a credible witness, since she changed her statement four times during the investigation.

Furthermore, the defense team argued the relationship was secret and did not cause public scandal; hence no harm was done to the army’s good name. Therefore, the adultery did not exist, it said!

To top it all, after the defense asked for the minimum penalty, the prosecutors failed to ask for the maximum penalty - which stood at ten years prison term - content to ask instead for Van Goethem’s army discharge.

The defense also played the emotional card, with calling to take the stand Van Goethem’s mother, sister and wife, who all cried and explained the jury he was a perfect son, brother, husband and father. They also said they would not be able to make ends meet without the support of Van Goethem.

Though the military court ruled out the manslaughter charges on grounds Peter did not die and was not even present in the taxi crushed by Van Goethem’s car, the latter read a statement in front of the jury, apologizing to Peter’s family and whishing none of this would have happened.

Van Goethem was poised all through the proceedings of the trial; he showed joy and embraced his family only when finding out he was acquitted of the charges.

The ruling left in shock and disbelief the few Romanian journalists present at Quantico.

And is fair to say that it shuttered the trust Romanians put into the fairness of the American justice system.

"I know not this is the ruling Romanians expected. And yet the Marine Corps did all it could to ensure a fair trial with sending it at the highest court, though the matter could have been ruled on by a lower court too," Sgt Sean Wright, spokesman for the military base at Quantico, told Jurnalul National.

Wright mentioned the ruling was final, and no appeal could be filed.

The only consequence for Van Goethem would be having problems in extending his contract with the US Marine Corps next year.

A parallel commission supervised the fairness of the trial. The commission was led by the commander of the fourth antiterrorist battalion at Quantico, Van Goethem was a member of.

"Such supervision is intended to insure the trial was fair, and that the ruling stays final and unchallenged when such conditions are met," explained a representative of McCormack & Associates, Attorneys at Law in the state of Virginia, specialized in military law.

Sgt Sean Wright said the commission concluded the trial was conducted perfectly.

These news came as a shock for those that met and loved Peter, as well as for Romanian lay citizens who realized their worse nightmare came true: the US Marine managed to avoid the Romanian judiciary and for justice to be served.

Translation by Anca Paduraru
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