Airman gets six months, discharge for desertion, marijuana possession
By Franklin Fishe
Stars and Stripes Pacific edition,
Saturday, February 12, 2005
OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — A 22-year-old airman was sentenced Thursday to discharge from the Air Force after pleading guilty to desertion and marijuana charges.
Airman 1st Class Joaquin D. McDowell of the 51st Munitions Squadron also was sentenced to six months in prison and reduction to the military’s lowest pay grade, E-1.
The judge, Air Force Lt. Col. Dawn R. Eflein, delivered the sentence in the general court-martial shortly after 1 p.m. Eflein is circuit military judge for the Pacific Circuit, out of Yokota Air Base, Japan. McDowell opted to be tried by a judge rather than a jury.
McDowell went on leave June 28 and failed to return as scheduled on July 21, prosecutors said. His unit declared him absent without leave the next day, July 22, and on Aug. 16 declared him a deserter. Then on Sept. 30, while McDowell was driving in Alabama, state police pulled him over and found marijuana and an unlicensed handgun. He was jailed for 23 days, said his defense attorney, Air Force Capt. John Fredland, then turned over to the Air Force, where he was charged with desertion and with possession and use of marijuana.
An airman facing an unrelated court-martial had told Air Force authorities he’d seen McDowell smoking marijuana at Osan Air Base earlier that year, said Capt. Carlos F. Colon of Osan’s legal office, assistant prosecutor in Thursday’s trial. A search of McDowell’s room turned up 0.46 grams of marijuana, Colon said.
During the trial, McDowell told the court that after he’d arrived for duty in South Korea, his wife told him she planned to divorce him and was involved with another man. This devastated him, he said. He and his wife have a 2-year-old son.
McDowell was jailed at Camp Humphreys, an Army installation about a 30-minute drive south of Osan. He’d spent 111 days in jail before Thursday’s trial.
“I want to say that I’m sorry for what I did,” he said in a statement before Eflein began weighing the sentence. “I wish I could take it back …
“This is going to be with me forever,” he said of his guilty pleas. “I have desertion. I have marijuana on me. I’m never going to have my kid no matter — ” his voice broke suddenly — “no matter how hard I fight.”
In closing arguments, prosecutor Capt. HoeChin Kim of the base legal office argued for sentencing McDowell to 30 months in prison.
“We don’t know what went wrong with Airman McDowell but we know he made criminal choices,” Kim said.
In asking Eflein for leniency, McDowell’s lawyer said McDowell’s was “a case of a young father with a 2-year-old son … He finds his marriage is failing … She’s seeing another guy … ”
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