May 18, 2012 at 11:35 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Prosecutor: fatal stabbing of Marine appears to be hate crime

Marine Barracks, gay news, Washington Blade

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

The April 21 fatal stabbing of a Marine across the street from the Marine Barracks on Capitol Hill took place minutes after another Marine accused of the stabbing saw the victim hugging a gay male friend outside a straight bar, according to the prosecutor in the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Liebman told a D.C. Superior Court hearing on May 16 that the government considers the incident a hate crime. But a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office said later that the government has not charged the case as a hate crime and that the case remains under investigation.

Liebman said defendant Pfc. Michael Poth, 20, shouted an anti-gay slur at Lance Cpl. Philip Bushong, 23, and Bushong’s gay friend, whom authorities have not identified.

Liebman told Judge Ronna L. Beck, who presided over a preliminary hearing, that the anti-gay slur came minutes before Poth and Bushong got into a verbal and physical altercation during which Poth allegedly plunged a pocket knife into Bushong’s upper chest, piercing his heart.

Bushong was pronounced dead a short time later at a hospital. D.C. police charged Poth with second-degree murder while armed. Police didn’t initially list the incident as a hate crime.

Liebman did not identify Bushong’s gay male friend, saying only that Poth saw Bushong and the friend hugging on the sidewalk outside Molly Malone’s bar and restaurant on the 700 block of 8th Street, S.E. The bar is located across the street from the Marine barracks at 8th and I Streets, S.E., where Poth had been stationed.

“This was a hate crime,” the Washington Post quoted Liebman as saying at the hearing. “The victim and his friend were embracing outside.”

Friends of Bushong have said he was straight. He had been stationed at the Marine Corps base at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and was visiting Washington, where he planned to move, friends and family members said. At the time of his death, Bushong was days away from being discharged honorably after having completed his term of enlistment.

Poth’s attorney, David Benowitz, argued at the hearing that Poth acted in self-defense. He pointed to one of several video surveillance tapes played at the hearing which showed Poth on the ground before getting back on his feet. Benowitz said Poth was on the ground because Bushong hit or pushed him.

Benowitz also noted at the hearing that a witness told police that Bushong was the first to initiate contact with Poth. At the time of his arrest, Poth told D.C. police homicide detectives that Bushong punched him in the face and head and he stabbed Bushong in self-defense.

According to accounts in the Post and the Washington Times, Benowitz argued that the facts in the case didn’t support a second-degree murder charge and that the charged should be reduced to manslaughter.

Court records show that Judge Beck denied the request to lower the charge and ruled that prosecutors established probable cause that Poth committed second-degree murder while armed. She scheduled a felony status hearing for the case on July 13.

Beck’s ruling came after D.C. Police homicide Det. Dwayne Partman testified at the hearing that a witness told police Poth shouted he was “going to stab somebody and cut their lungs out” just after he walked past Molly Malone’s bar. Partman testified that the witness said Poth made that remark while Bushong and his gay male friend along with other people were standing in front of Molly Malone’s, the Post reported.

The Post also reported that two members of the Marines dressed in civilian clothes entered the courtroom before the hearing began and informed the attorneys that the Marines had given Poth an other than honorable discharge based on poor conduct that occurred prior to Bushong’s murder.

Liebman stated at the hearing that Marine Corps officials informed prosecutors that Poth tested positive for using synthetic marijuana and he had “verbally assaulted other soldiers and had to be restrained,” the Post reported.

William Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office, said he could not provide further details on the case because it is pending in court and remains under investigation. However, Miller said that at the present time, the U.S. Attorney’s office has not charged the case in court as a hate crime.

Benowitz didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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

  • This was NOT a hate crime, STOP CRYING WOLF ALL THE TIME!

  • It is useful to review the Blade’s initial report of this anti-gay hate crime homicide for further commentary…

    From the Blade’s reports, including…
    (Marine calls fellow Marine anti-gay slur, stabs him to death near 8th St. barracks; By Lou Chibbaro Jr. on April 23, 2012)
    “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,” the police statement says.

    “From what we know, the argument was not over sexual orientation,” Alder told the Blade. “And I would say at this time the information that we have appears to show that it was an insult in the heat of their argument and did not have anything to do with any perceived sexual orientation,” he said.

    Assistant D.C. Police Chief Diane Groomes told the Blade in an email that the police report stating the incident was not a hate crime may have been prepared before witnesses were interviewed and additional information became known.
    Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Liebman told a D.C. Superior Court hearing on May 16 that the government considers the incident a hate crime…
    Liebman told Judge Ronna L. Beck, who presided over a preliminary hearing, that the anti-gay slur came minutes before Poth and Bushong got into a verbal and physical altercation during which Poth allegedly plunged a pocket knife into Bushong’s upper chest, piercing his heart.

    It appears MPD’s anti-LGBT hate crime coverups and anti-LGBT discrimination against LGBT (and perceived LGBT) victims in DC continues.

    This is the way MPD covers up/ ignores DC’s hate crimes law for LGBT victims. I am intimately familiar with a case, some years ago, in which the responding MPD officer described an obvious anti-gay hate crime, with a number of VERY credible witnesses, as merely college students having fun.

    First, in this case, we have a MPD homicide LT who has outrageously characterized an anti-gay slur as merely an “insult in the heat of their argument” — making a judgment that an anti-gay slur “DID NOT HAVE ANYTHING to do with ANY perceived sexual orientation” (capitalized emphasis, mine).

    Then, in that same Blade news report (23 April), DC Asst. Chief Diane Groomes appears to make excuses for that discriminatory MPD assessment of the anti-gay slur reportedly heard.

    Now we have a DOJ (USAO) prosecutor characterizing this homicide as a hate crime, in open court– to a judge!

    Has MPD amended its report so that it reflects a SUSPECTED BIAS-RELATED crime? If not, then we have another example of de facto anti-LGBT discrimination by MPD.

    At some point, with these repeated failures by MPD to report hate crimes, it is reasonable to ask if this failure is a matter of ‘quiet, down the grapevine’ discriminatory policy at MPD’s highest levels.

    By failing to accurately report anti-LGBT hate crimes, MPD ends up conveniently fudging the anti-LGBT hate crimes statistics. Then MPD’s chiefs don’t have to answer all those pesky questions from the Council and DC’s LGBT press about MPD’s closure stats for LGBT hate crimes in DC.

    But an anti-LGBT hate crime is compounded for LGBT victims when MPD ignores DC’s hate crimes statute, as well. MPD’s failure to report hate crimes usually does even more harm to LGBT victims.

    It is simply a fact that LGBT victims are less likely to successfully win civil damages from their tormentors or criminal perpetrators when MPD ignores DC’s hate crimes law. After all, a hate crime perp’s lawyer can argue that MPD “couldn’t find” evidence of a hate crime, “So why should a judge or jury award civil damages under DC’s hate crimes law?”

    Do MPD’s chiefs care about that aspect of the law they are sworn to enforce? Not likely. The chiefs continue to treat anti-LGBT hate crimes as a PR problem, rather than the policing enforcement problem it is.

    On a high-profile case like the shooting at IHOP and assault(S) on GA. Ave, the chief joins an impromptu protest organized by the victims’ friends, and solemnly claims, “We take this personally.” She promises swift justice. Yadda, yadda. But then returns to her MPD’s same old, same old standard operating procedure.

    Our chief of police began her tenure by attempting to destroy the GLLU unit in 2007. When stopped by the mayor, DC Council, GLAA and other LGBT activists, she then tried to dilute and water GLLU’s core unit down. Few LGBT residents buy her subsequent claims that GLLU has been ‘expanded’ and ‘broadened’. Meanwhile, what appear to be obvious anti-LGBT hate crimes, like this, continue to be ignored by MPD (and USAO-DC).

    LGBT residents, stakeholders and visitors need better oversight by Council. Maybe some DC LGBT lawyers should consider seeking a writ, a COURT ORDER to MPD to enforce DC hate crimes law which MPD seems hell-bent on ignoring.

  • With all due respect, Tom is right. While anti-discrimination laws may not prevent hate crimes, they are part of the fabric that starts changing society at it’s roots. They start changing the perspectives of citizens, and changing the underlying social attitude. So, before you start attacking someone else’s views, perhaps you should consider that your own perspective may not be right, and be open to hearing an opposing opinion, because there just might be some good information that you hadn’t considered. The responses to Tom’s comments are the same underlying arrogance (I’m right, you’re wrong, there’s no room for anything that disagrees with me) that results in such attacks in the first place.

  • 1992 – Allen Schindler – 2012 …. Murdered in Sasebo, Japan by a fellow shipmate for being gay…

    There is nothing new under the sun ……………..

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