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Stepmother of Slain Female Soldier Asks Court to Show Leniency

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Posted on Mar 25, 2012
Image courtesy friends of Morganne McBeth

Army paramedic Morganne McBeth died under suspicious circumstances in Iraq in 2010.

By John Lasker

Spc. Nicholas Bailey, the second and final suspect charged in the 2010 stabbing death of Army paramedic Morganne McBeth, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter March 9 and later that day was sentenced to nine months in military prison and given a bad-conduct discharge.

Bailey, in a court-martial proceeding at Fort Bragg, N.C., admitted his guilt “as part of a plea deal,” a website of News 14 Carolina reported. He had faced a more severe charge of negligent homicide.

McBeth, a popular 19-year-old from Virginia, was in a tent on a military base in Iraq with Bailey and Spc. Tyler Cain when she was stabbed near the heart.

The case was detailed in a Truthdig article posted last Sept. 20. In that article, McBeth family members described the slain paratrooper as a vivacious young woman who loved to leap from military airplanes and who, as a display of patriotism, occasionally decorated her hair with strands of red, white and blue. They strongly criticized the way the Army investigated and prosecuted the case.

Initially, the military did not charge anyone in McBeth’s death, telling the family that she may have accidentally stabbed herself or committed suicide. But the McBeths pressed one of their congressmen to take action, and only then, five months after her death, were the two soldiers arrested and criminally charged—Cain with conspiring to obstruct justice and Bailey, initially, with involuntary manslaughter, which was later increased to negligent homicide.


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The criminal charges on which Bailey and Cain were convicted mean the Army officially believed their story that the stabbing was an accident. In one version of events (the defendants changed their story during the investigation) McBeth got too close to Bailey, a military policeman, as he wildly flailed a large knife at a poster pinned to the wall of a tent they were in at Al Asad air base in Iraq in July 2010.

Cain said at his court-martial last April that he, McBeth and Bailey—all part of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team—had been hurling knives at the poster. Initially, Cain told Army investigators that McBeth was wounded as Bailey forcefully withdrew a knife from the poster. Later he changed his story, claiming that McBeth was stabbed when she walked up from behind Bailey as he wildly attacked the poster.

Cain’s sentence: confinement for 45 days and reduction in rank from specialist to private.

Bailey told a military judge that he roared and stabbed the poster in an effort to be funny in front of his two friends. He said he then pulled the poster from the tent wall by using knives and in doing so accidentally stabbed McBeth as she approached.

Many of McBeth’s relatives and friends did not believe the explanations offered by Cain and Bailey.

“We will get justice for you sis one way or another,” Courtland McBeth, writing before Bailey entered his plea, said on a Facebook page dedicated to his sister. “The military is still covering all this up. He [Bailey] needs to have the [murder] charge and not involuntary manslaughter. That’s a lesser charge and I guarantee the military is going do everything it can to make sure he isn’t charged and gets off. Being discharged from the military is not justice.”

Indeed, the evidence suggesting McBeth’s death was no accident is substantial. A medic who rushed her to an emergency room told military investigators that as her life slipped away she told him there had been “a scuffle.” The family, citing autopsy photos, said McBeth had bruises on her wrist (suggesting she had been held down) and cuts on her legs and lip. And the military surgeon who tried to save her life told a courtroom that the fatal wound was much deeper than that of a typical accidental stabbing.

However, immediately before Bailey’s sentencing at Fort Bragg earlier this month, McBeth’s stepmother, Sylvia, chose to take the path of forgiveness. Earlier she had met with the Bailey family, which pleaded with her to ask the judge to be lenient with Spc. Bailey, who faced the possibility of 10 years of confinement. Moved by the family, she told the courtroom, “To watch another family’s life be destroyed—I can’t go on like that.”

“I don’t think he should be punished,” she said of the defendant. “I think he’s been punished enough.” She also urged Bailey, who had expressed remorse, to honor “Morganne every day the rest of his life.”

After Sylvia McBeth testified, she embraced Bailey’s mother in the courtroom, and the two, holding hands, sat side by side.

Pam Baragona of and Project Bravehearts, two soldier advocacy efforts seeking to change the way the military investigates noncombat deaths, told Truthdig that McBeth’s legacy continues because her case may convince the military it can no longer turn a cold shoulder to families that want clear and definitive answers in noncombat killings.

“The Army could have done better for this family, and this is a lesson for them [the Army] because there needs to be changes in the system,” Baragona said.

Bailey’s guilty plea, said Baragona, was a victory for McBeth’s family and friends. She said pressure from independent press articles such as Truthdig’s and from social media influenced the military to offer some justice for the paratrooper. The case was ignored by the major elements of the national press, and the local press near Fort Bragg largely embraced the military’s line on why the killing happened.

“We gave the family a voice,” said Baragona, who closely followed the case from the beginning and offered the McBeth family advice in its dealings with military investigators. “But a lot of military families don’t know who killed their kid, a lot of people.”

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By Khaos, April 1, 2012 at 12:56 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Both are guilty point blank…here is the story straight from the horse’s mouth…My wife decided to befriend Cain after his confinement, they soon took on a relationship in Oct 11, of course now we are going thru divorce…as part of a conversation overheard whilst Cain was at my house he straight admitted he was angry that McBeth was breaking up with him that night, the end result is known…this is why both kept changing their stories, Cain carries at least a 4-6” knife on him EVERYWHERE he goes, the same exact style knife that was used that night…he isn’t some innocent kid that got caught up in an extraordinary incident, it was done on purpose…why do you think Bailey pled guilty? i’m not just saying this because of my wife’s infidelity because honestly she isn’t that great of a person, but hearing what i did put me in quite a state of shock, just too bad i did not have the recording equipment in my house setup at that time…he even went as far as stealing medication from my cabinets and I myself and a disabled veteran that relies on my medications every to even function correctly…I wish I could take this to the army as official testimony but since I did not record it they would take it as hearsay and dismiss it…Oh and keep in mind, he has done this once already, now there is a 2yr old child involved now…what do you think will happen when my ex breaks it off with him? I’ll either end up burying 2 ppl or have a motherless child…and for those who think i’m full of crap, take a long look at yourself in the mirror, then come visit me in North Carolina, kid drives a black Mazda 3 with no hubcaps on the right side and is “devoted” to his family who literally have to shelter him on the weekends because of other soldiers on base who will literally kill him at their first opportunity…the first time i caught him in MY house he almost ended up in a body bag…and i’d bet anything and everything on what i said…both of these guys don’t deserve the air they breathe…2 guys get to live and one girl has to die, one guy walks to possibly do it again, and the other sits in jail for 6 months, and back out in the public again over a deliberate act…BS…pure BS

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By paloverde, March 29, 2012 at 1:58 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Anyone who joins the military is either a fool or too neive for their own good.

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By Marian Griffith, March 28, 2012 at 4:20 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

@Harold Darling
—-Sylvia McBeth’s generosity ought to be applauded, but was Morganne McBeth’s death an accident or negligent manslaughter?—-

I think the question should be: Was this first or second degree murder?

This whole case is further evidence that the US army does not care about its female soldiers being abused and raped, and now apparently murdered. Two soldiers accidentally stab a woman to death get believed on their say so, while compelling evidence that there was more to the situation (the victim telling the first responder there was a tussle and showing bruises and other light injuries) was summarily dismissed. (Two men, both armed, alone with a woman who shows bruises on her arms and wrists. Normally this would be sufficient reason to investigate it as an attempted rape)
Because the US army, like every big organisation, cares first and foremost about its reputation. It will close rank and bury evidence of internal problems and deal only (and reluctantly) when forced by public attention. And even then the case is handled to be closed as quickly as possible, blaming the victim if at all possible.

We will now never know if what most likely happened that day is truth or not. But we do know that there was never even any attempt made to find out what happened and that this conviction, such as it is, does not come close to justice. Either these two men are guilty of attempted rape and second degree murder (plus lying under oath) and should have been punished far more severely. Or they were indeed innocent and should not have been punished at all.

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By msgmi, March 27, 2012 at 11:15 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Another case of hubris in the chain of command, especially when it concerns women. What has happened to honor when whitewashing takes a precedence.

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By Ron Harwell, March 27, 2012 at 5:09 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I have followed this story since it first came to light and the conduct by the military (I am a Veteran) is typical. Close ranks. Protect your own. Redact the reports. Lose evidence. Lose witnesses. Rewrite witness testimony. Close the file or lose it. This is nothing new and has been going on for decades. (Anyone remember My Lai for example? Falluja? Gunship slaughter? Urination pics? Bales and murder—The military is rewriting this as it occurs right now. This is not justice for her but it is the best her family is going to get. If they had not pursued this, the incident would have been over and done with and her killers still on duty, serving and being saluted as heroes. And worse yet, discharged with full benefits. Killers turned loose on the private sector.

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By Mike Strong, March 26, 2012 at 4:36 pm Link to this comment

Well at least we can say there is some small equivalence in treatment between our own murdered female soldiers and murdered Afghans and Iraqis and other “towelheads” (and worse words). Nine months for murder. I’m not big on the value of capital punishment and don’t see much point in it but what is nine months? I guess you have to treat the murder of one of our own with more “gravity” than the murder of “ragheads.”

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By Harold Darling, March 26, 2012 at 9:39 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Sylvia McBeth’s generosity ought to be applauded, but was Morganne McBeth’s death an accident or negligent manslaughter?

I wish the article had presented a more complete record of the disputed facts, for I can’t make out who did what.

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By Bob, March 26, 2012 at 4:21 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As an honorabally discharged US Army infantry paratrooper - to me, this is disgusting and sick. These murderers are a disgrace to the military and to America.

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By Galen Flynn, March 25, 2012 at 6:09 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Are you kidding me? Why do we care about her STEPmom. As someone with a stepmom, who fears moving back home and living with my stepmom’s bullshit, fuck this article. Not everyone considers their stepmom family, disrespectful to assume this soldier did.

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