by Kraig Pickel
I received a letter, a DD form 2705, when the Private was transported to the United States Disciplinary Barracks, more commonly known as Leavenworth.
Months before, a Corporal was standing on the sidewalk at his barracks, in North Carolina. He was waiting for his laundry to dry and making phone calls to his hometown in Ohio. From a neighboring building, the Private, high on Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey and Methylene-dioxy-pyrovalerone, or bath salts, sprinted across the courtyard towards the Corporal and struck him across the head with a 10-pound jackhammer bit.
The Corporal was on the phone with his fiancée. She heard the whole thing. There was hardly a struggle, only slaps and bumps, a scuffle and a groan from hair and flesh and bones meeting the brick building wall and poured concrete walkway.
The Private discarded his weapon into the bed of a pick-up truck and noticed another marine approaching to investigate the late night commotion. He motioned to the marine and said, “Hey man, come help me drag this body into the tree line.” That marine ran away.
Arrests were made, next of kin notified, and the friends and comrades of the Corporal whispered. The senior marines of the unit stayed at the barracks for an extra security duty the following night. My shift started at 0300, when the sun started to rise, I noticed that the forensic crews had cut the caution tape and left it all. Litter.
You know, the cops don’t do clean up. They just pick up the body and the big pieces. So we rallied because we didn’t want the North Carolina sun to bake the blood into the asphalt and start to smell, and we didn’t want his fellow marines to see the remaining carnage. Our Company Commander brought his Black and Decker 300 psi pressure washer, and the First Sergeant had rubber Haz-Mat gloves and 33-gallon trash bags from the maintenance building, so we could wash away the trail of blood and discard the bone fragments and coagulated tissue, already gathering ants.
I used the small flat orange triangles, evidence markers left behind by NCIS, because I didn’t have anything else. I had to get down low and pick up every bit of skull and sticky matter off the blacktop with a quick scooping motion, like flipping eggs.
At the trial, I watched the Corporal’s family take the stand. The mother, catatonic with grief, could barely speak. The sister recounted her year of crying and sadness and drugs to keep her sane, The father crushed imaginary stress balls in his fists like he was milking out his rage and pain as he mumbled responses to questions about his murdered son.
I took the stand, too and I thought about the military values that I’d proselytized for the past twenty years: brotherhood, commitment, teamwork.
The Private was a supply clerk, from an adjacent unit. Before he was accepted into the military, he already had a medical record of suicide attempts, assaults, and hospitalization for mental illness. To the judge, he said, “I just wanted to kill someone. I’m sorry.”
The Private was sentenced to life without parole and I filled out my part of the DD form 2705 Notification to Witness of Prisoner Status, so I would stay informed. And maybe someday I’ll receive another letter. Maybe when the Private is moved to the federal prison system, or maybe when he petitions the court for an appeal, or maybe when he’s shanked in the kidneys, in the prison cafeteria and bleeds out on the polished concrete floor, where, with a dirty gray mop and a yellow bucket, one of his fellow inmates will have to clean it up.
Kraig Pickel is a retired United States Marine Master Sergeant. He served as a Ground Ordnance Maintenance Chief, a Drill Instructor, a Marine Corps Martial Arts Instructor, and in deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. During his time on active duty, he earned his Bachelor of Arts in History with the University of Maryland. After retirement, he graduated from Vermont College of Fine Arts with a Master of Fine Arts in Writing. His work has been featured on the “Mondays are Murder” web series by Akashic Books, and Duke City Dimestories. He currently resides in Albuquerque, New Mexico with his wife and daughter.