April 24, 2012 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Marine charged with killing another Marine after anti-gay slur claims self-defense

Marine Barracks on Capitol Hill (Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Marine charged with fatally stabbing another Marine on a D.C. sidewalk after allegedly calling the victim an anti-gay name told police he acted in self-defense.

A police affidavit released Monday during a court hearing says Michael Joseph Poth, 20, told police he stabbed Marine Lance Cpl. Philip Bushong, 23, on April 21 after Bushong followed him on the sidewalk across the street from the Marine Barracks on Capitol Hill and after Bushong allegedly punched him in the face.

A police homicide detective who prepared the affidavit says in the document that there were no signs of an injury or bruise on Poth’s face or head when police questioned him at the Homicide Branch office a short time after the incident occurred.

Police charged Poth with second-degree murder while armed after Marine guards who witnessed the stabbing apprehended Poth. A police statement says the incident took place about 2:30 a.m. Saturday, April 21, on the sidewalk in front of 727 8th Street, S.E.

The affidavit says police found a blood-stained pocket knife attached to Poth’s pants pocket at the time they took him into custody. The D.C. Medical Examiner’s office says an autopsy found that Bushong died from a puncture wound to the heart caused by a knife penetrating his upper chest.

“Information uncovered during the course of the preliminary investigation indicates that there was a verbal exchange, and during the exchange a homophobic slur was heard from the suspect prior to the stabbing,” a police statement says.

D.C. Superior Court Magistrate Judge Karen Howze ruled at Monday’s presentment hearing that prosecutors provided sufficient evidence to establish probable cause that Poth committed second-degree murder in connection with the case. She ordered him held without bond and scheduled a preliminary hearing for the case on May 15.

No mention was made during the hearing about the police statement that a witness heard Poth make an anti-gay slur at the time Poth and Bushong got into a verbal altercation on the street that turned violent.

A police incident report doesn’t list the murder as a hate crime. Lt. Robert Alder, commander of the Homicide Branch, said a hate crime designation could be added to the report depending upon the findings of an ongoing police investigation.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Liebman, the prosecutor in the case, said during Monday’s hearing that a witness observed someone believed to be Poth walking along 8th Street near where the stabbing took place but between 30 and 60 minutes earlier. He said the witness reported that the person, who fits the description of Poth, stated in an agitated way, “I’m going to stab somebody, or cut their lungs out. They are fucking with the wrong person.”

Liebman also said at the hearing that prior to the incident Marine officials were in the process of discharging Poth under less than honorable circumstances as a result of drug related offenses and “belligerent” behavior toward other Marines.

727 8th Street, S.E. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

David Benowitz, Poth’s attorney, disputed the significance of Poth’s pending discharge to the case at hand. He pointed to the police arrest affidavit’s account by another Marine guard witness who said he saw Bushong retract his arm as if he was about to punch Poth just prior to the stabbing.

Benowitz said the account by the Marine witness supports his contention that Poth acted in self-defense. He told the court that a second-degree murder charge isn’t supported by the facts of the case.

In responding to questions by reporters after the hearing, Benowitz declined to discuss the allegation by one of the Marine witnesses that Poth hurled an anti-gay slur at Bushong shortly before the stabbing.

Gay activists, including officials of the local group Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV), had not weighed in as of Monday on whether they agreed with the initial police decision not to list the murder as an anti-gay hate crime.

Friends of Bushong said he was neither gay nor homophobic, according to the Washington Post, which interviewed some of his friends. The Post reported that friends described Bushing as a “warm and sincere young man who loved to read” and “shattered the stereotype” of a Marine rifleman.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

3 Comments
  • MPD COVERUP … AGAIN???
    *****
    “Information uncovered during the course of the preliminary investigation indicates that there was a verbal exchange, and during the exchange a homophobic slur was heard from the suspect prior to the stabbing,” a police statement says.

    A police incident report doesn’t list the murder as a hate crime. Lt. Robert Alder, commander of the Homicide Branch, said a hate crime designation could be added to the report depending upon the findings of an ongoing police investigation.
    *****

    Or, then again… “a hate crime designation could be added to the report depending upon…” whether or not the LGBT investigative press catches MPD ignoring obvious evidence that elements of a hate crime existed.

    That’s discriminatory, ‘squeaky wheels’ policing. C’mon! Who does MPD think they’re kidding??? Again!

    This excuse-making by MPD is simply NOT credible. Why is MPD bending over backwards to IGNORE DC’s hate crimes law?

    Moreover, MPD now appears to be consistently peddling a very significant change in long-standing MPD procedure to always list a “suspected” hate crime on the incident report if there was any credible evidence that the elements of a hate crime existed.

    “Later” and “ongoing investigation” have become MPD’s operative stalling words in lame response to LGBT press questions as to their now-obvious failure to enforce DC’s hate crimes law.

    DC’s Bias-Related Crimes Act is very clear…
    ***
    (1) “Bias-related crime” means a designated act that demonstrates an accused’s prejudice based on the actual or *perceived* race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, family responsibility, physical handicap, matriculation, or political affiliation of a victim of the subject designated act.

    (2) “Designated act” means a criminal act, including arson, assault, burglary, injury to property, kidnapping, manslaughter, murder, rape, robbery, theft, or unlawful entry, and attempting, aiding, abetting, advising, inciting, conniving, or conspiring to commit arson, assault, burglary, injury to property, kidnapping, manslaughter, murder, rape, robbery, theft, or unlawful entry.
    **
    It matters not whether the victim was gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. If the suspect gave any overt indication that he/she PERCEIVED the person to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender or that sexual orientation had anything to do with committing the designated act (murder, in this case), then the responding MPD should have checked off “suspected hate crime” and “sexual orientation”– or however it is listed on their pad these days.

    Once again we see MPD dragging its feet in enforcing DC’s Bias-Related Crimes Act in what appears increasingly to be official anti-LGBT discrimination.

    That begs other questions, however… e.g., Is MPD’s continued foot-dragging really at the behest of low-staffed prosecutors at USAO-DC?

  • Because it was no a HATE CRIME, stop throwing that term around!

  • Not every crime resulting from the use of a anti-anti gay slur is a hate crime. It seems to me that most of the readers of the Blade seem to have a persecution complex.You do realize that every other word out of a Marines mouth is fag or faggot. They’re all preoccupied with homo-sex. But that doesn’t mean that Poth meant what he said. We all know that straights use the words with great regularity to prove just how hetero they are.

    Poth is just a P.O.S. that joined the Marines for a free ride. Once they found that he was a useless scumbag, they were dumping him so Poth was raging cause he was losing his meal ticket.

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