CHERRY POINT, North Carolina — During questioning on Tuesday at the homicide trial of two Marine special operators accused of killing an Army vet, a witness claimed to have seen a defendant act much more aggressively than others’ testimony — and even the witness’ own prior testimony — had indicated.
Now on trial before a general court-martial, Gunnery Sgts. Danny Draher and Josh Negron face charges of involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide, among others, stemming from the death of defense contractor and former Green Beret Master Sgt. Rick Rodriguez more than four years ago.
Draher, Negron and Navy Chief Petty Officer Eric Gilmet — now colloquially known as the “MARSOC 3″ — had just finished celebrating the New Year in the early hours of Jan. 1, 2019, at a bar off-base in Irbil, Iraq, when they became involved in a brief altercation with Rodriguez. The Army veteran ended up unconscious and died a few days later.
Gilmet, who has asked an appeals court to dismiss the charges against him, isn’t being tried as part of this trial, but he received immunity to testify in it without his statements being used against him.
At the trial of the two Marine Raiders on Tuesday, witness Adam Songer gave testimony that, if true, would make it harder for the defense lawyers to make the case that their clients were acting in self-defense.
Songer, then a Marine sergeant, was on the street outside the T Bar when he heard a “skin-on-skin punching, smacking noise,” he said during the prosecution’s direct examination. He told the jury that he then turned and saw Rodriguez on the ground, with Negron straddling him and hitting him in the face once or twice.
Songer soon pulled Negron off of the contractor, he said.
“The situation wasn’t right,” Songer said he recalled thinking.
But on cross-examination, a lawyer for Negron expressed skepticism about the reliability of the witness’ testimony.
Joseph Low noted that no other witnesses had seen Negron punch Rodriguez while he was already on the ground.
And Songer himself apparently had made very different statements to an investigator on Jan. 9, 2019, a little more than a week after the incident, Low said.
According to Low’s reenactment of that testimony, Songer had told the investigator that a “Josh MacGregor” had hit Rodriguez before, not after, the contractor fell to the ground and that he didn’t see who then got on top of Rodriguez.
“How do we know which one to pick?” Low asked, suggesting that it was hard for the jury to decide which of Songer’s conflicting statements to believe.
Each time the witness said he didn’t remember giving a particular answer to an investigator, Low ambled back over to his podium and, with his black pen, conspicuously made a mark on a document that rested there.
In response to sometimes scathing questions from Low, Songer maintained that he had seen Negron on top of Rodriguez, insisting, “This is what I recall right now.”
Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.