A jury decided on Thursday to give two Marine Raiders no legal punishment for drinking while deployed to Iraq, after a jury cleared them of homicide charges in connection with the death of a Green Beret veteran four years ago.
Gunnery Sgts. Josh Negron and Danny Draher also had faced charges of involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide and dereliction in the performance of duties, but a jury of eight Marines found them not guilty on Wednesday night at a trial at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina.
“It’s definitely a huge weight off my shoulder,” Negron told Marine Corps Times following the sentencing on Thursday. “It’s been a long time coming.”
The jury did find that Negron and Draher had violated a lawful general order by consuming alcohol while deployed to Iraq. The two men had never denied drinking on the night of Rodriguez’s death, and one admitted to it on the stand, Phillip Stackhouse, Draher’s civilian attorney and a Marine veteran, told Marine Corps Times Thursday morning.
Prosecutors had alleged that Negron and Draher were responsible for the death of retired Army Master Sgt. Rick Rodriguez, then a military contractor.
In the early morning of Jan. 1, 2019, Rodriguez and the two Raiders had ended up in an altercation near a bar off-base in Irbil, Iraq. It concluded with Negron punching Rodgriguez. The defense argued that Negron had acted to protect Draher from Rodriguez’s drunken aggression.
Following the fight, Draher and Negron left Rodriguez with Chief Petty Officer Eric Gilmet, a Navy corpsman. The prosecution had argued that Draher, Negron and Gilmet — now sometimes collectively called the MARSOC 3 — were criminally responsible for the death by not taking Rodriguez to a hospital earlier, an allegation the defense disputed.
Earlier in the trial, the judge dismissed obstruction of justice charges against the two Marines, and Marine Forces Special Operations Command commander Maj. Gen. Matthew Trollinger dropped a part of the involuntary manslaughter charge against Draher. That part of the charge — called a specification — had claimed that Draher punched Rodriguez. But most witnesses said they had seen just Negron punch Rodriguez.
Following their conviction for violation of a lawful general order for drinking, Negron and Draher had faced a maximum of two years’ confinement, plus dishonorable discharges and forfeiture of pay, according to the courts-martial manual. But the jury opted not to impose any punishment.
“Given these two members’ incredible amount of loyal service over a long period of time, and the incredible missions that they’ve been asked to do and accomplish in the worst conditions, punishing somebody like that for something this small would have been cruel,” Joseph Low IV, Negron’s civilian attorney and a Marine veteran, told Marine Corps Times after the sentencing.
Stackhouse, Draher’s attorney, told Marine Corps Times Thursday that the defense counsel has asked Trollinger, the commanding general, to set aside the conviction. The lawyer said the command theoretically could decide to process Draher and Negron for separation, but that that kind of action is typically reserved for more egregious offenses.
Stackhouse also gave to Marine Corps Times a written statement that he requested be quoted in full:
“I think both defense teams share this sentiment: we want to thank the MARSOC Commanding General for ensuring a fair process. Fair doesn’t mean easy. Fair means that he funded the experts we needed, funded the expenses for traveling the witnesses we needed, and ensured that Gunnery Sergeants Draher and Negron had a real jury of their peers — including officers and senior staff noncommissioned officers who were Raiders and/or had real-world experience from which to judge the evidence. That does not always happen, so he ensured a fair process.
“We also had a judge who allowed the lawyers to try their cases like they needed to be tried. That, too, does not always happen. When the process is fair, you get fair results. For that, we are grateful.
“Additionally, we appreciate the support from Raiders — past and present, Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and civilians. The support lifted spirits, gave us all energy, and kept us all going over the last four years.”
Stackhouse added over the phone that while Draher wasn’t immediately able to comment, he shared the sentiments in the statement.
Lawyers for Draher and Negron previously had expressed concern that the Marine Corps couldn’t be counted on to provide a fair trial, after a top Marine lawyer in November 2021 made a comment that MARSOC 3 counsel said threatened the Marine attorneys defending the two Raiders. Motions the defense filed in the year prior to the trial to dismiss the case on the grounds of unlawful command influence had been unsuccessful.
The prosecution declined to comment to Marine Corps Times.
Marine Corps Times attempted to reach Rodriguez’s family by asking the prosecution to forward a request for comment, but didn’t immediately receive a response.
Negron told Marine Corps Times that he was also thankful for the judge, jury and command for what he said was a fair trial.
“I’m not sure exactly what the next chapter of my life looks like, but I am overall extremely grateful, and grateful to the Marine Corps in general,” said Negron, who enlisted in 2000 and said his father also served in the Corps.
And if his command allows him to stay in the Marine Corps, Negron said, he will.
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.