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Soldier Accused in Pvt. Danny Chen's Death Acquitted of Homicide

By Serena Solomon | July 30, 2012 6:35pm | Updated on July 30, 2012 7:12pm

NEW YORK CITY — The first of eight soldiers to be tried in the hazing death of Pvt. Danny Chen, a Chinatown native who committed suicide in Afghanistan, was acquitted Monday of all serious charges.

After a six-day military trial at the Fort Bragg Army base in North Carolina, Sgt. Adam Holcomb was acquitted of negligent homicide. Holcomb had been accused of racially taunting and bullying Chen in the weeks and days leading up to the 19-year-old's death last Oct. 3.

Holcomb was convicted of two counts of maltreatment and one count of assault at the trial, which was attended by Chen's Parents and a host of their supporters, according to public affairs specialists at Fort Bragg.

The sentencing phase of the court martial for Holcomb will begin Tuesday.

The military jury deliberated for a short time after lunch, then returned to declare Holcomb guilty of maltreatment and assault, for an incident in which Holcomb was accused of dragging Chen over a gravel path and using racial slurs, according to News 14 Carolina.

City Councilwoman Margaret Chin, who represents Chinatown and attended part of the trial, said Monday that she was disappointed in the verdict.

"This decision is an affront to the Chen family and to servicemen and women across our country," Chin said in a statement.

"Never before has the pervasiveness of hazing and bullying in our armed forces been so exposed. Sgt. Holcomb physically and verbally abused Private Chen. His campaign of abhorrent and racist behavior was unrelenting, and it caused Private Chen’s death. By failing to uphold the most serious charges in this case, the military has effectively condoned Sgt. Holcomb’s conduct."

The trial brought to light many previously unknown facts about the case, which has been followed closely in New York's Chinese community. On Thursday, the doctor who performed the autopsy on Chen revealed the solider had written a suicide note on his left arm in black marker.

"Tell my parents I'm sorry," the message read, according to the Daily News. “Veggie — pull the plug."

The proceedings also revealed that a transfer for Chen had been scheduled for as early as Oct. 4, 2011, according to the New York Times. However, the day prior, Chen shot himself in the head while in a guard tower in Afghanistan.

The officer who gave the testimony, Capt. Sean Allred, said Chen's planned transfer had been arranged because the solider had been "struggling to satisfy his responsibilities as an infantryman," the Times reported.

In the first day of the trial last Tuesday, Chen's mother and East Village resident, Su Zhen Chen, reportedly took the stand denying she disowned her son for joining the military.

"He was the best son in the world for me," she said through a translator, according to the New York Times.

"We had a very good relationship," she said.

The seven others accused of contributing to Chen's suicide will be tried throughout the rest of the year.