Booze may have led a Marine to pull the trigger, but a judge says he wasn’t aiming to kill.
A Drexel University student who served as a U.S. Marine in Iraq was recently cleared of charges that he fired two shots at a University City District “ambassador” in April. A judge, however, found that the 23-year-old shot his .357-caliber revolver into the air at 32nd Street and Powelton Avenue at 1 a.m. April 24.
Scheduled for sentencing Dec. 10, he could face up to seven years in prison for reckless endangerment and possession of an instrument of crime.
Steve Greene, who as an ambassador patrols school neighborhoods by bicycle, told police that while he was riding near that intersection, he noticed a blond man less than 15 feet away pointing a gun at him. Greene, 41, claimed he then heard a bullet whiz by his head before radioing for Philadelphia Police backup [News, “A Bitter Homecoming,” Doron Taussig, May 6, 2004].
Minutes later, officers apprehended him, who lived on the 400 block of North 32nd Street at the time, with a gun stashed by the small of his back. Police found that two rounds were spent. The defendant had an additional 10 rounds on him, as well as a permit issued in Chester County allowing him to legally carry the gun.
The defendant’s attorney, Michael Diamondstein, called the Oct. 20 verdict “favorable” and said there were several inconsistencies between Greene’s testimony and the evidence. Meanwhile, he insisted that he did not shoot at anyone.
“[Greene said] there were two shots fired at him. Eyewitnesses said yeah, there [were] two shots fired, but they were 45 minutes apart! [Greene said] he saw my client shoot at him from 15 feet away, but he didn’t see a muzzle flash because a car was blocking his view. You don’t have to be a ballistics expert” to be skeptical of his story, Diamondstein said in a post-trial interview. “[Green said] he heard a bullet whiz by his ear but he had a helmet on!”
While the University City District did not make Greene available for comment this week, a spokesperson said: “this issue has been dead from our perspective for quite a while.” The District Attorney declined to comment on the case, pending sentencing.
The defendant’s arrest both shook the people close to him and led to speculation that his military service could have played a role in the incident.
The business administration major is a Marine corporal who received combat-meritorious promotions for his service in battle-hardened al-Nasiriyah and Tikrit. When he returned home in July 2003, his fraternity, Alpha Pi Lambda, flaunted a picture of his welcome home party on its Web site, with a caption boasting that The defendant had “showed to the enemy just how hard it is to put down a Pi boy.”
Lt. Michael Chitwood reported that the district that made the arrest was flooded with phone calls attesting that the defendant was “a good guy.” Chitwood also heard accounts that the defendant recently learned he would be sent back to Iraq and that the information could have launched him into an unsteady state. Diamondstein now says that there is “absolutely no truth to that whatsoever,” and that the defendant’s service “had nothing to do with it.”
The defendant is a reservist and his Marine unit has not been reactivated. Maj. Doug Powell offered no comment on whether the defendant’s status would be affected by his conviction. But, he said, civilian crimes “can and (do) affect a person’s military career,” and decisions about a serviceman’s status are made on a case-by-case basis. Diamondstein added that it is unlikely the defendant will return to Drexel, where he is on interim suspension.
“I have a feeling one way or another that his tenure at Drexel is done,” said Diamondstein, who called 27 character witnesses during the trial to just one-Greene-for the prosecution. “The judge saw that the evidence showed that he didn’t shoot at anybody. This was just an occasion when he fired his gun into the air.” Of course, firing a gun into the air is not an innocent activity-people have been severely injured by bullets returning to earth.
Asked why the defendant was shooting into the air, Diamondstein responded, “Frankly I don’t know. He may have had one or two too many drinks. … the evidence shows no legitimate reason.”
By: Doron Taussig