By ALAN RIQUELMY - email@example.com
Pvt. Jonne T. Wegley stood with his arms outstretched, hands clenched into fists, his back to the man holding an M-16 less than three inches from his left leg.
The bullet that prosecutors claimed the 19-year-old intended to get him out of the Army with medical disability in May 2009 instead left him with a mutilated leg and in front of a military judge for his court martial on Monday.
Facing charges including solicitation to commit aggravated assault, maiming, intentionally inflicting self injury and conspiracy, Wegley was found guilty of all charges, except maiming, by Col. Stephen Castlen near the end of his one-day court martial.
Wegley was sentenced to four months’ confinement and a dishonorable discharge. Prosecutors had asked for three years in prison and a bad conduct discharge.
Wegley didn’t testify, but gave an unsworn statement following his conviction in which he discussed his personal history and medical issues since the shooting.
“Private Wegley is a self-serving individual willing to do anything to get out of the Army,” Capt. Caitlin Chiaramonte said. “Private Wegley not only ruined his career, but Mr. Hudgins’ career.”
William M. Hudgins, who served with Wegley in D Company, 1-330th Infantry Regiment, 198th Infantry Brigade, testified that Wegley approached him asking for a favor in May 2009 during basic training at Fort Benning.
Prosecutors argued that Wegley was depressed. His brother had been seriously injured and was in the hospital, and his girlfriend had aborted their child and found proof of him cheating on her, prosecutors said.
Wegley told people he needed to get out of the Army, Capt. Steve Szymanski said.
“He asked me if I could shoot him in the leg,” Hudgins said. “He asked me if I could shoot him so he could get out of the Army. I told him no.”
Wegley offered Hudgins $5,000 and a job if he shot him, Hudgins said, and his answer changed. A plan then formed: Hudgins would get a round and hide it in his boot while on the range.
They’d walk into a nearby wood line where no one would see, and Hudgins would shoot him in the left leg. That way, Wegley could still use his right leg for driving, Hudgins testified.
Once he’d shot Wegley, Hudgins was to shout “man down.”
Later, they could both claim it was a ricochet, he added.
On May 11, 2009, Hudgins grabbed his weapon and both men walked to the wood line. Someone called to them, saying they couldn’t bring the weapon but Hudgins said he ignored them.
They climbed down into a ditch and Wegley began to use the latrine. Hudgins was about two feet behind him, he said.
“He raised his arms up, tensed up and said, ‘I’m ready,’” Hudgins said.
At first, Hudgins said no. Then he changed his answer.
“I said, ‘Private Wegley asked me to shoot him,’” he said.
Under questioning by defense attorney Maj. John Calcagni, who serves in the U.S. Army Reserves, Hudgins said he’s told different details of the story since the shooting, but he denied lying.
Hudgins initially told an investigator that Wegley didn’t give him any money, though he testified Monday that Wegley gave him $102 as a down payment.
Hudgins also never told investigators about the job offer, the ricochet cover story or Wegley’s desire to both get out of the Army and have disability benefits, he said.
“If Wegley really wanted out of the Army, all he had to do was refuse to train,” Calcagni told Hudgins.
Calcagni also pointed out that Hudgins initially faced charges that could have put him in prison for 40 years. Instead, he agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. Hudgins’ case went to a special court martial, where his maximum sentence was a year, Calcagni said.
In his closing arguments, Calcagni said his client’s alleged motive didn’t work. All Wegley had to do was tell his sergeant he wouldn’t train, and he’d be kicked out of the Army.
All the judge had was one man’s testimony, which Calcagni argued wasn’t enough to convict.
“This story doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “He said that Wegley was going to pay him $5,000. Where does a private E1 get that kind of money?”
Calcagni theorized that the shooting was a negligent discharge, a suggestion Szymanski suggested made as much sense as a ricochet. Szymanski pointed out that Hudgins spent 10 months behind bars for his role in the shooting.
“Why would he come up with that?” Szymanski asked. “Why not just say that I was holding the gun and it went off?”
The only logical conclusion, Szymanski said, was that Hudgins was manipulated and deceived.
Castlen then found Wegley guilty of solicitation to commit aggravated assault, intentionally inflicting self injury and conspiracy to commit aggravated assault consummated by battery. Wegley was found not guilty of maiming, though in its place he was found guilty of aggravated assault consummated by a battery.
Before sentencing, Wegley told the judge that he had intended to make the Army a career. He once hoped to become a Ranger and enter the Special Forces.
Now, it isn’t known whether he’ll ever be able to run again. He’s undergone 25 surgeries, had a total reconstruction of his knee, multiple skin grafts and has severe nerve damage. He can’t control his left foot, he said.
“I respect your decision, but I request no confinement due to medical conditions,” Wegley told the judge in his unsworn statement.
The shot sent Wegley backward to the ground. Hudgins dropped the weapon, ran from the ditch and yelled “man down.” People ran to Wegley and began giving first aid. A drill sergeant questioned Hudgins, asking whether he shot Wegley.
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