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Marine Drill Instructor Found Guilty of Hitting on Recruit's Sister

Marine Recruiting Station Baltimore (Marine Photo)
Marine Recruiting Station Baltimore (Marine Photo)

A former Marine Corps senior drill instructor from Parris Island, South Carolina, was found guilty at court-martial of failing to adhere to recruit training rules in ways that risked recruits' welfare, having a recruit complete his college homework, and forcing another to call his sister so that he could proposition her.

Staff Sgt. Antonio Burke was, however, found not guilty of forcing recruits to perform incentive training in a dusty, abandoned squad bay known as "the Dungeon," and of slathering them in sunblock and making them roll around in a sand pit for the purpose of irritating their skin.

Burke is expected to receive a sentence Friday morning in the first of three cases involving alleged drill instructor hazing at Parris Island to be tried at general court-martial.

After a recruit jumped from a third-story barracks building to his death last March, a series of command investigations turned up serious allegations of hazing within 3rd Recruit Training Battalion at the recruit depot.

Fifteen drill instructors were sidelined in the initial probe, and six were ultimately charged in connection with two separate alleged incidents, one involving a Muslim recruit thrown into an industrial dryer, and another involving the Dungeon and a spectrum of unauthorized and demeaning training activity.

Of the four drill instructors accused in the latter incident, Burke faced the most serious charges.

But prosecutors were challenged to prove out elements of alleged hazing when a series of former recruits from Burke's unit, Platoon 3044, offered confusing and sometimes contradictory testimony.

Regarding the Dungeon, testimony was unclear as to when Burke was present for the incentive training, and how bad the breathing conditions were for the recruits, who allegedly did push-ups, burpees, and other strenuous exercises in the room for five to ten minutes at a time.

A jury of enlisted Marines and officers did, however, find sufficient evidence that Burke abused his power over recruits on multiple occasions.

Marine Lance Cpl. Kelvin Cabrera testified that Burke had confiscated a family picture showing Cabrera's sister, then forced Cabrera to log onto his Facebook page so Burke could message her. While on the page, Burke saw pictures of another sister, Jennifer, and made Cabrera call her so that Burke could proposition her with a trip to Miami.

Jennifer Cabrera testified that the call made her uncomfortable and worried for her brother.

"I believed the Marine Corps was out there to protect us," she said. "That abuse of authority that was going on with my brother changed my opinion, slightly."

The jury found Burke guilty as well of lying to an investigating officer about this activity.

Burke was also found guilty of having a recruit do his homework for American Public University; of not taking the proper actions when a recruit, later found to have a heart condition, passed out on his watch; of conducting unauthorized, or "illegal" incentive training with recruits on various occasions; and, on one occasion of grabbing a recruit by the collar and pushing him out of the chow line.

He was acquitted of other charges including being drunk on duty, calling recruits crass names, and throwing their footlockers, all of which are against regulations. Burke had also been accused of attempting to bribe recruits with Clif bars to keep them from saying anything incriminating about drill instructors being investigated; on that charge, too, he was found not guilty.

Despite the various acquittals, Burke may still stand to face the greatest punishment of any drill instructor so far for his inappropriate activities. To date, three other drill instructors from Platoon 3044 have had cases adjudicated in lesser proceedings.

In May, Sgt. Riley Gress was acquitted of violation of a lawful general order, false official statement, and cruelty and maltreatment.

In June, Staff Sgt. Matthew Bacchus pleaded guilty to charges of violation of a lawful general order and maltreatment at a summary court-martial and received administrative punishment. And the same month, Staff Sgt. Jose Lucena-Martinez took a plea deal, avoiding court-martial altogether and receiving administrative punishment.

Two more cases, involving the recruit allegedly stuffed in the dryer, are expected to go to general court-martial this fall.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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