The status of the military court case of a former Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island drill instructor accused of hazing and abusing a Muslim trainee has changed, according to the Corps, which hasn’t specified exactly what that means.
Sgt. Michael K. Eldridge was in May scheduled to be tried by general court-martial — the highest-level military court — beginning Sept. 25.
Now, though, according to Marine Corps Training and Education Command spokesperson Capt. Joshua Pena, his case is “pending.”
Pena said Thursday he could not, at this time, be more specific about the status of Eldridge’s case. In an email to The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette in response to questions submitted last week about the status of Eldridge’s case, Pena wrote Tuesday that “there has been a change in Eldridge’s proceeding.”
Eldridge is accused of, among other things, his alleged role in the hazing of former recruit Ameer Bourmeche, who is a Muslim, and who was, on a late night in July 2015, ordered into a commercial clothes dryer and interrogated about his loyalty and faith — while the dryer was turned on and off. Bourmeche was burned in the incident, according to a Marine Corps investigation.
Brian Magee, a former lead prosecutor on Parris Island and, until a few weeks ago, a member of Eldridge’s defense-counsel team, said there are several scenarios that could explain the status change.
“The first scenario for a case status to change is that something significant has happened,” said Magee, now an attorney with Beaufort-and-Savannah-based firm Military Justice Attorneys. A case may have been scheduled for a general court-martial but there has been a change of forum to, for example, a special or summary court-martial — lower-level legal proceedings — he said.
Other scenarios include:
▪ the accused could have requested a bench trial where only a military judge will hear the case, instead of a jury-like court-martial proceeding
▪ a guilty plea could be forthcoming that would negate a contested trial
▪ officials could have decided to handle the case with a lower-level administrative action instead of a trial
▪ an additional case — new charges against a different Marine — could have surfaced that changed the timeline of previously scheduled proceedings
“I have not been involved with his case in a while,” Magee said when asked if knew the current status of Eldridge’s case and could disclose it.
Citing attorney-client privilege, Magee declined to comment on why he’s no longer representing Eldridge.
Pena could not be immediately reached for comment Friday morning.
An investigation of the dryer incident also implicated Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Felix. Like Eldridge, he has been charged with allegedly violating four Uniform Code of Military Justice provisions: failure to obey a lawful general order; cruelty and maltreatment; making a false statement and being drunk and disorderly.
Felix has also been linked to the death of former recruit Raheel Siddiqui.
On March 18, 2016, Siddiqui reportedly tried to request permission from Felix, his senior drill instructor, to go to medical. Siddiqui apparently failed to appropriately convey the request, and Felix punished him with a series of punitive sprints across the barracks.
Siddiqui collapsed to the floor and, according to some witnesses, was non-responsive. Felix attempted to wake Siddiqui, then forcefully slapped him in the face multiple times. Siddiqui then jumped up, ran out the back of the barracks and vaulted over the third-story railing near the stairwell.
According to the Corps, Felix should not have been supervising Siddiqui’s platoon because he was already being investigated for the dryer incident.
A Marine Corps investigation of the March 18 incident found that Felix’s actions were “likely the impetus” for Siddiqui jumping. The Corps ruled the former recruit’s death a suicide. His family and their attorney, Shiraz Khan, disagree.
Siddiqui was also a Muslim recruit. Felix allegedly called him — and Bourmeche — “terrorist” during points during their training.
Felix is scheduled for a general court-martial beginning Oct. 30 at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Also facing general court-martial — for failing to sideline Felix — is that drill instructor’s former battalion commander, Lt. Col. Joshua Kissoon.
Kissoon was arraigned Wednesday. No trial date has been set.