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.
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.