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Marine's attempted-suicide conviction overturned by military court

April 30, 2013|By Tony Perry
  • Former Marine Lazzaric Caldwell was found guilty of attempted suicide. A military appeals court has thrown out the conviction.
Former Marine Lazzaric Caldwell was found guilty of attempted suicide.… (Denis Poroy / Associated…)

A military appeals court Monday overturned the attempted-suicide conviction of a former Marine from Oceanside.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces ruled that the military did not prove that the suicide attempt of Pvt. Lazzaric Caldwell disrupted good order and discipline or brought discredit on the armed forces, conditions necessary for a finding of guilty.

Caldwell had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. He slashed his wrists in 2010 while serving in Okinawa and was given six months in the brig and a bad-conduct discharge.

The ruling is not a precedent for other cases where personnel are prosecuted for attempted suicide. The decision means the case will be returned to a lower court for reassessment, which could mean that Caldwell's bad-conduct discharge will be overturned.

Navy Lt. Michael Hanzel, representing Caldwell, argued in a legal brief that "surely, neither Congress nor the president intended [the statute] ... to prosecute mentally ill people who make genuine suicide attempts."

But Marine Maj. David Roberts, representing the government, countered that the statute making attempted suicide a crime is clearly written and that it helps maintain discipline in the ranks.

The Marines had argued that good order and discipline were disrupted when personnel came to Caldwell's aid. The court did not accept that assertion.

"The gunnery sergeant and medically trained corpsman administered first aid, as they would have in response to any other injury," the court's decision said.

The bad-conduct discharge bars Caldwell, now 26, from receiving veterans benefits, including mental health counseling.

Caldwell pleaded guilty but the appeals court ruled that the court-martial judge should not have accepted the guilty plea to the attempted-suicide charge.

While he was never deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, Caldwell was troubled by numerous problems, including being stabbed by a girlfriend, the deaths of several family members and confrontations with other Marines, according to court documents.

Along with the suicide charge, Caldwell was convicted of larceny, driving without a license and possession of a banned substance. He had enlisted in the Marine Corps at age 20 after a troubled life in Texas that included a year in jail for assault.

"Now I focus on God and good music," according to a statement on his Facebook page.

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tony.perry@latimes.com

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