[back] The Crimes of Mena: Military "Suicides"

[Part 4] The Crimes of Mena: Military "Suicides"

Part 1, 2, 3

[1993 Dec 22] The suicide files: Death in the military----last of a four part series.

The Philadelphia Inquirer     
                        Wednesday, December 22, 1993

 the brother of col. james sabow hired his own experts and concluded
   that a killer is on the loose. he sees military bungling ---- and a
   blatant cover--up. other families wonder, too, if justice will be
   by david zucchino
   inquirer staff writer
   the last time sally sabow saw her husband alive, he was deep into his
   usual morning routine. col. james sabow had risen early, showered,
   shaved, had coffee and settled in to watch cnn coverage of the gulf
   it was jan 22, 1991.
   about 8:30 a.m., sally sabow recalls she drove off to morning mass,
   leaving her husband sitting contentedly in front of the tv inside
   their military quarters on f street at marine corps naval air station
   in el toro, california.
   an hour later , sabow says , she returned home to discover her husband
   lying dead in the back yard. part of his head blown away by a blast
   from a 12 guage shotgun. two weeks later, still numb with greif and
   shock, sabow was stunned yet again by a development that has since
   dominated her life: the navy concluded that col. sabow , 51,
   despondent over an allegation that he had transported personel items
   on military aircraft, had committed suicide.
   it didn't make sense to her. jim was determined to prove his
   innocence. sabow says. the night before he died, she recalls , she had
   watched her husband vow to a fellow officer to fight the charges in
   military court. she heard him threaten to expose alleged drug
   trafficking on the base.
   beyond that, sally sabow says, the evidence she had seen suggested
   murder , not suicide. she had seen a lump half the size of a baseball
   behind her husbands right ear, as if he had been bludgeoned.the
   television was on" mute." she knew jim used the mute button only when
   he had to step away to answer the door. and the two family dogs were
   locked in the garage. her husband never locked up the dogs. sabow
   says, unless someone came to the back door.
   now, almost three years later, jim sabow's widow and his brother say
   their experts have found evidence proving the colonel was murdered.
   they accuse the military of covering up a homicide, mishandling
   evidence, rearranging the death scene, and plotting to discredit the
   family. they maintain that sabow was killed because he planned to
   expose the alleged use of military aircraft to smuggle drugs.
   "my brother was murdered --- and i can prove it," said john david
   sabow, a south dakota neurosurgeon. "i know who killed him. and they
   know i know. it will all come out."
   for other families of dead servicemen, there are nagging fears that
   the truth never will come out. because the military has so mishandled
   investigations into the deaths of their loved ones, they say, they may
   never know how the men died.
   worse yet, the sabows and a few other families say, killers have
   gotten away when murders were wrongly ruled suicide.
   forty families have told the inquirer that the military deceived them
   and improperly investigated the cases of servicemen whose deaths were
   ruled suicides or accidentally self-inflicted. the newspaper's review
   of the cases found a pattern of perfunctory and incomplete
   investigations in which evidence was mishandled or destroyed.
   in some cases, lab tests were not performed. blood and tissue samples
   were not analyzed. fingerprints were not taken. evidence was thrown
   away. leads were not pursued. people were not questioned.
   with each passing day, trails grow colder and witnesses' memories grow
   more faint. as the 40 cases lie closed in military files, families'
   demands for new investigations grow more urgent.
   "i refuse to live the rest of my life with these lies about my
   brother," said julia harrison, whose family disputes a ruling by the
   navy that electrician's mate william t. harrison committed suicide in
   texas in january. "whoever killed him is still out there --- and i
   wonder how they sleep at night."
   last month, congress passed a bill requiring the pentagon to review
   its procedures for investigating deaths ruled self-inflicted, and
   report back to congress by next july. the measure also creates a
   mechanism for families to present to the pentagon's inspector-general
   evidence of a "material deficiency" in a death investigation.
   most families say they want more: new investigations by an agency
   unconnected to the military. some have formed a support group called
   "until we have answers."
   "at this point, i probably don't have a prayer of finding out how my
   son died," said a founder of the group, robyn hall, who has disputed
   the navy's suicide ruling in the 1991 death of her son michael j.
   leslie. "but it's gratifying to know congress has questioned the
   military's methods-- and recognized we have legitimate complaints."
   spokesmen for the military's three investigative agencies defended
   their investigations as thorough and professional. they said the
   agencies were aware of no new evidence to warrant reinvestigating the
   for catherine jakovic, the more queations she asks about her son's
   death, the more contradictory the answers she gets.
   the navy first said marine lance cpl. scott jakovic was alone when he
   shot himself in the head while on guard duty in 1991. then, it chared
   a fellow marine in connection with the shooting. when that marine was
   acquitted, the navy again said jakovic had shot himself-- while
   playing russian roulette.
   more than two years after scott's death, jakovic still does not know
   how he died.
   "the military tries to intimidate you and keep you in the dark." she
   said. "they don't want the truth to come out."
   the death of col. sabow was ruled suicide two weeks after sally sabow
   found his body. it was too quick, sabow's brother says. the
   fingerprint, blood and gunshot residue tests weren't back from the lab
   yet. it seemed to david sabow that the navy was eager to close out his
   brother's case. he suspected the military was hiding something.
   sabow decided to have the entire case investigated. he hired gene
   wheaton, a former army and air force investigator who had supervised
   hundreds of investigations, and ted . gunderson, the former chief of
   the fbi office in los angeles. he also hired forensic specialists to
   study the autopsy and crime scene photos.
   what they found convinced sabow that his brother had been murdered by
   someone in the military who feared the colonel would reveal drug
   trafficking via military aircraft.
   sabow said his forensic experts have concluded that the shotgun blast
   blew away his brother's brain stem, instantly ceasing all breathing.
   yet the experts found evidence that sabow breathed blood into his
   lungs for four to five minutes before he was shot.
   that evidence, combined with the large bump on sabow's head, led the
   experts to a conclusion: the colonel was bludgeoned from behind by a
   right-handed person, knocked unconscious, and then was shot in the
   head minutes later.
   that conclusion is supported, david sabow said, by the position of his
   brother's hands. if the colonel had shot himself, he said, his arms
   would have flown out and away from his body. but the arms were folded
   in prayer position in front of sabow's face, sabow said.
   beyond that, investigator wheaton contends, the crime scene was
   rearranged to fit a suicide scenario. wheaton said the first
   investigators on the scene told him col. sabow was found lying a few
   feet away from a lawn chair. crime scene photos show the chair lying
   on top of sabow, according to wheaton.
   the photos also show open shotgun ammunition boxes lying on the garage
   floor. wheaton says investigators told him that the boxes were found
   closed and stored inside a cabinet.
   "they arranged the scene so their reports would "flow properly",
   wheaton said. "they dummied it up. they thought the suicide made more
   sense that way."
   although the colonel was not wearing gloves, the naval criminal
   investigative service (ncis) report said no fingerprints were found on
   the gun or the two shells loaded into it. moreover, wheaton said, an
   agent told him that two investigators handled the gun with their bare
   hands, tainting the evidence.
   sally sabow noticed that her husband wasn't wearing his glasses when
   he died. he was extremely far-sighted, she said , and could not see up
   close without them.
   so how, she wondered, did he select 12 gauge shells from a jumble of
   boxes, buried in the garage cabinet. that also contained 16-gauge and
   20-gauge shells?
   the ncis said no fingerprints were found on the ammunition box, yet
   wheaton said an investigator told him that another investigator
   handled the box with his bare hands.
   and, according to david sabow, the breech of the shotgun was was
   devoid of blood. if sabow had put the barrell to his mouth and fired,
   as the ncis report said, the breech should have been spattered with
   "blowback" blood and brain tissue.
   in october, the sabow's filed a civil complaint in federal court
   against the government and military, seeking damages for emotional
   distress and alleging a conspiracy to conceal circumstances of sabow's
   the government, which has until mid-january to formally respond, has
   not yet done so, according to sabow's attorney. a spokeswoman for the
   u.s. attorney's office in los angeles did not return calls seeking
   the suit alleges that the military conspired to "oppress , threaten,
   harass, coerce, intimidate and inflict emotional distress" on the
   sabows. it charges that el toro commanders plotted to portray col.
   sabow as a "crook" and "felon," and prepared a letter to the south
   dakota board of medical examiners accusing david sabow of misconduct.
   according to the suit:
   investigators failed to cordon off the death scene and left sabow's
   body exposed and uncovered for about seven hours on a warm afternoon.
   they failed to properly "bag" sabow's hands to preserve evidence that
   he fired the shotgun.
   they stuck the shotgun into three paper bags instead of proper
   evidence bags, possibly tainting the evidence.
   they failed to check beneath sabow's fingernails for possible evidence
   that he struggled with an attacker.
   they failed to preserve sabow's organs and tissue samples.
   they misquoted witnesses. "you'd do a better job as a criminal
   investigator if you watched old perry mason reruns," and sabow's
   lawyer paul copenbarger.
   according to the suit, col. sabow's military attorney was quoted by
   the ncis as saying the colonel was "desperate" when the two men spoke
   the morning sabow died. the lawyer later said he actually told the
   ncis that sabow "exhibited the normal anxiety associated with being
   under investigation, but did not appear irrational or desperate," the
   suit said.
   the ncis quoted sally sabow as saying she saw "a look of terror" in
   sabow's eyes the morning he died. she denies saying that.
   "if i had the slightest hint that he was despondent, i would never
   have left him alone," she said. "he was anxious about the allegations,
   of course, but he was perfectly functional and normal."
   col. sabow's commander expressed doubt that sabow would kill himself
   over minor allegations that a military plane in which he rode
   delivered stereo speakers and posters to his son at an air force base.
   similar charges were successfully brought against the top two
   commanders at el toro, where sabow was third-in-command until he was
   suspended 10 days before his death.
   one of those commanders told the ncis:"it is illogical that colonel
   sabow would take his life solely on the basis of events in the very
   early stages of an investigation."
   the sabows say they have spent more than $100,000 trying to prove that
   jim sabow did not kill himself. they say he was a straight-arrow
   marine, a proud officer and vietnam war hero who exemplified the best
   of the corps.
   it pains them, they say, to be deceived and bullied by the very marine
   corps that jim sabow loved so deeply.
   "the disgust i now feel towards the military is overwhelming," david
   sabow said. "what they've done to this family is sickening."
   sally sabow says she feels betrayed.
   "i used to be one of the most patriotic people in the world," she
   said. "now i won't pledge the flag. i won't sing the national anthem.
   my faith in my country is destroyed."
   on the day he died in mississippi, airman allen shults had his car
   serviced. then he did his laundry. later on, he called a friend back
   home in kansas to plan a party.
   a few hours later, according to the air force, 6-foot-3 allen shults
   tied a sheet to a door's broken hydraulic closure, looted it around
   his neck, and hanged himself. he was dead at age 20, asphyxiated in
   his dormitory room at keesler air force base near biloxi, mississippi,
   in july 1992.
   at first, royal and linda shults accepted the military's suicide
   ruling, although they say their son seemed happy when they spoke to
   him days before he died. but when the air force refused to provide
   details --- including a death date for allen's tombstone---they began
   to wonder how he died.
   at their home in atchison kansas the shults decided to hire a private
   detective to investigate allens death. what he found they said,
   convinced them he was murdered.
   chris rush, a private investigator from new york says he was suprised
   by the paucity of effort and evidence the air force put into the
   shults case.
   " they didn't even follow their own investigative procedures," rush
   said this month.
   "their investigation effectively ended at 8:pm the day allen died."
   according to rush the air force:
   *did not perform saliva tests to determine who smoked two cigarette
   buts found in shults room. neither was of brands he smoked.
   investigators said he was alone when he died.
   *did not check under shults fingernails for possible evidence that he
   had struggled with some one.
   *did not take fingerprints from the room.
   * did not check telephone records of calls to and from shults room on
   the day he died.
   * missed "v" shaped contusions on shults neck that were not consistent
   with marks left by bed sheet hanging.
   *destroyed the sheet used in the hanging .
   rush said 13 of 15 people he interviewed at the keesler base told him
   that statements attributed to them by the air force were either
   entirely false or taken out of context.
   after interviewing them and then showing them their statements in an
   air force investigative report. rush said, " they were dumfounded.
   they said: "thats not what i said,".
   rush said his investigation found circumstantial evidence that shults
   death was connected to his relationship with the wife of another
   the heavily censored air force report says shults and the woman had
   arranged a rendezvous for july 5 ---- three day after shults death.
   rush said shults told a friend the night he died that the woman was
   going to discuss a divorce with her husband.
   the air force concluded that shults, after an evening of drinking,
   killed himself because the woman was spending the weekend with her
   husband. it quoted three co--workers who said shults had seemed
   rush also said shults' suitemate told him he thought shults was hiding
   a woman in his room when he saw shults there about 9:30 p.m. the
   military estimated that shults died around midnight.
   according to rush, the suitemate said the air force never asked for
   details about his visit to shults' room.
   rush also said he was told that a different woman --- was in the room
   with shults that night.
   the air force report said a note was found in shults room that read: "
   i loved you but i couldn't take the pressure."
   the report said a hand writing analysis was inconclusive , finding
   indications that he wrote the signature allen wendell shults on the
   note but " limited indications" that shults wrote the printed message.
   the shultses say the handwriting is not their son's, and he so
   detested his middle name he never used it.
   ronald f. decker, a former air force officer of special investigations
   (osi) investigator who reviewed the osi report, said: "there are many
   items that osi apparently chose not to investigate. this investigation
   is nowhere near as complete as it 'appears'."
   u.s. rep. jim slattery (d. kan.) said the shultses deserve a better
   "linda and royal shults have convinced me that the air force's
   investigation nay have been designed to fit a predetermined
   conclusion," slattery said this month. "there are legitimate questions
   about whether allen committed suicide."
   the osi report describes shults' room as neat. rush said the
   death-scene photos show garbage, clothing and other items strewn
   about, suggesting a struggle. shults was found wearing a t-shirt
   turned inside out.
   rush speculated that the marks on shults' neck could have been left by
   the watchband of someone choking him from behind. he said shults may
   have been strangled and then hanged with the sheet.
   bonita j. peterson, the former medical examiner in jackson county,
   missouri, examined the autopsy report, death scene and autopsy
   photos,and the military report. she said the neck marks were not made
   by the sheet.
   "i must conclude that the possibility of homicide has not been
   excluded." peterson said in a report prepared for the family.
   rush said the air force did not pursue evidence--- a videotape and
   computer messages---that shults' death could have been related to
   hazing by an illegal base fraternity called "godfathers of keelser."
   "they ruled suicide from the start," rush said. "they never considered
   the possibility of homicide.......proving a homicide takes work.
   suicide is easier."
   linda shults, a schoolteacher, said she and her husband, a principal,
   have spent $50,000 on the case so far. even as they prepare for their
   second christmas without allen, she said, they cling to the hope that
   it is not too late to find out how he died.
   "if this thing costs us our savings and home, it'll be worth it if we
   find out what happened to our son," shults said. "we owe allen that
   the day before he died, electrician's mate william timothy harrison
   was interrogated by ncis agents. they accused him of stealing a pistol
   from the armory of his ship, the u.s..s. devastator, docked in
   ingleside, texas.
   according to an ncis report, harrison was kept under ncis surveillance
   in the hope that he would lead agents to the gun and other items he
   was accused of stealing.
   even so, the ncis says harrison managed to drive from his apartment to
   a local pawn shop and buy a .45-caliber pistol for $300 jan. 7. from
   there, the ncis says, he went to a wal-mart and bought ammunition.
   then, according to the ncis, harrison drove back home and shot himself
   in the head with his new gun. the agency ruled that harrison committed
   suicide because he was distraught over the theft investigation. the
   stolen gun never was found.
   the report says an ncis agent contacted harrison's ship on jan. 7
   because there had been "no movement around his apartment." it says the
   agents stayed in a car and let harrison's landlady open his apartment
   to look for him without telling her was suspected of stealing a gun.
   harrison's family says the evidence assembled by the ncis does not
   prove suicide .
   "the suicide ruling was cut and dried before his body was in the
   ground," said harrison's mother, kathleen holler.
   there are many questions harrison's family says the navy has failed to
   answer since tim harrison died. what they have told, they maintain, is
   "they lie to you, trying to make the facts fit their version of what
   happened," said harry holler, harrison's step-father. "every thing
   they told me, sits right in my livingroom, a lie."
   harrison left mo suicide note. although some fellow sailors told
   investigators that harrison was "moody" and had "a violent temper,"
   they said his behavior was normal in the days before his death.
   the ncis report notes no "overt indications of distress" in harrison.
   kathleen holler said her son was happy when she spoke with him on the
   phone not more than 24 hours before he died. she said he described a
   recent volunteer trip with a local emergency rescue squad, and made
   plans to come home on leave the next month.
   he did not mention the ncis interrogation, she said.
   a review of the ncis report suggests that the suicide ruling was
   harrison was right-handed, but a medical examiner's report said
   indentations on his left thumb and fingers indicated they had been in
   contact with the gun.
   harrison's hands were swabbed for evidence that he had fired a gun but
   the ncis report gives no indication that the were tested or that
   attempts were made to test fingerprints from the gun.
   no full autopsy was performed. the medical examiner's report said he
   performed "external examination" but did not cut into harrison's body
   or head, as is customary.
   "the wound appeared to be consistent to suicide," the one-page report
   kathleen holler said she noticed bruises on her son's neck and ears at
   his funeral . no such marks were noted in the medical examiner's
   the ncis said the .45-caliber pistol that killed harrison was found
   lying on his chest.
   gene wheaton, now a private investigator, said the pistol's powerful
   recoil should have sent it flying across the room. wheaton reviewed
   the ncis files for the inquirer.
   the death certificate lists the time of death as "unknown," but places
   it sometime during the "a.m." on jan.7 . three neighbors said they
   heard a loud "bang" sometime during the early evening; one also said
   she heard someone "moving something around"harrison's apartment about
   10 p.m.
   the ncis report said "it is reasonable to conclude "suicide because
   harrison was "distraught over the amount of evidence coming to light
   in the investigation against him."
   the ship's commander disagreed with a finding that harrison had
   "displayed previous suicidal tendencied." he otherwise endorsed the
   suicide ruling.
   the ncis report noted that "certain minor conflicts appear in the
   evidence." but none to "warrant comment."
   in august, a comment in a letter sent by the ncis to the family
   indicated that any potential reinvestigation of harrison's death would
   run into serious problems.
   because the investigation "did not uncover any evidence of foul play,"
   the letter said, all remaining evidence was "disposed of or
   first . the navy marenicola whittles that her son died while playing
   russian roulette . next, she said, she was told that he had died
   accidentialy while cleaning his gun. then, they told her the fatal
   shot was fired while he was playing with his gun.
   " they did half an investigation and stopped," she said. " and then
   they tell me: believe what we tell you. case closed. thats it.
   whittles disputes a navy ruling that her son, marine cpl. cornelius
   whittles, accidentally shot himself in the head while toying with his
   gun in 1991 during guard at the earle naval weapons station in colts
   neck, n.j.
   a base spokeswoman declined to discuss the death of whittles or the
   deaths two other guards at the base under similar circumstances. one
   of the deaths also involved a marine corporal -scott jakovic-while the
   other was of a civilian guard. a guard pleaded guilty of shooting the
   civilian while "goofing around" with his gun.
   "there seems to be a total breakdown in discipline," whittles said.
   "if these young men were playing with their guns, why wasn't something
   done about it?
   the navy's explanation for the deaths-russian roulette or otherwise
   toying with guns-has been offered to the survivors of several dead
   servicemen. the families dispute the military's accounts.
   in the ncis report, whittles' death was listed as accidentally
   "self-inflicted." the report said his 9mm beretta pistol discharged as
   he held it to his head. seconds earlier, the report said, whittles had
   compared the safety features of the beretta with those of a weapon
   held by another guard.
   whittles says she suspects the military covers up drinking and
   horseplay with guns.
   cpl. whittles fiancee, tracy sandburg, said she spoke with him on the
   phone less than an hour before he died. she said whittles told her
   that security officers in the control room with him at earle that
   night were drinking and clowning around.
   "someone walked in, and overheard him ask if he could stash beer
   there, " sandburg said. "and he /whittles/ said, "no. get it out of
   here, this is a restricted area."
   sandburg said whittles put her on hold for a moment, then came back on
   the line and said he had to hang up because a report had come in about
   pranksters overturning a car.
   "we said goodbye, and that was the last time i spoke to him," she
   although the navy report says whittles fired his gun with his right
   hand for residue that would indicate he had fired a weapon.
   a civilian autopsy report noted: "there is no impression of the
   trigger noted on fingers and there is no gunpowder noted on the right
   or left hand."
   other security guards in the room with whittles when he was shot were
   not tested for gunshot residue, according to the navy report. the
   report also says investigators were unable to find latent fingerprints
   on whittles' gun.
   "how do they get away with these half investigations?" whittles asked,
   "people shouldn't have to put up with this....my son gave the marine
   corps everything he had. he deserves better."
   questions still haunt stanley and delores wolf eight years after the
   army told them their son shot himself in the head while on guard duty
   at schofield barracks in hawaii.
   stan wolf, an fbi electronics specialist in nevada, is puzzled by what
   he read in army criminal investigation command (cid) report. the
   report said sec. 4 richard s. wolf grabbed a .38-caliber ruger
   revolver and ammunition from a fellow guard during a shift change in
   october 1985, then put the weapon to his head and fired.
   a military medical examiner concluded that wolf, 20, killed himself
   "while playing russian roulette."
   but an atomic absorption test revealed no traces of gunpowder on
   wolf's hands, which should have been covered with powder residue from
   fireing the gun. the army report says medical personnel washed wolf's
   hands before swabbings could be taken from them.
   the autopsy found no evidence of powder burns in wolf's head wound.
   such burns are normally left in self-inflicted wounds.
   the wolfs say death scene photos show blood spatters on a wall behind
   wolf no higher than 25 inches. but the army report said wolf, who was
   5-foot-10, was standing when he shot himself with a round that
   traveled upwards through his head. why then, stan wolf wonders, were
   the blood spatters so far below his son's head?
   the autopsy report makes no mention of "blowback"-blood and
   tissue-that should have covered wolf's hand.
   and a key witness, wolf's security partner, gave conflicting versions
   of wolf's death.
   spec. 4 lydia mccorkle first said wolf grabbed her gun and a single
   round, then loaded the round and spun the hun's cylinder.
   mccorkle later amended her statement and said she did not see wolf
   either load the round or spin the cylinder.
   because of discrepancies by mccorkle and other witnesses, the army
   reopened the case in september 1986, but reached the same conclusion:
   wolf shot himself.
   mccorkle said wolf told her just before he pulled the trigger.
   "russian roulette? i have a one-in five chance."
   asked by investigators why she thought wolf had shot himself, mccorkle
   said: "i don' t believe he was suicidal.....i believe he was just
   showing off."
   to stan wolf, the forensic evidence suggests that someone other than
   his son fired the gun. until the army reconciles the conflict between
   that evidence and witnesses' statements, he said, he will not believe
   his son shot himself.
   "i know one thing," he said. "it didn't happen the way they said it
   more than two years have passed since catherine jakovics eldest son
   phoned her with devastating news: her youngest son, scott, was lying
   near death in a hospital. he had been shot in the head.
   by the next night, oct. 13,1991, lance cpl. jakovic was dead, five
   months short of his 21st birthday.
   numb with grief, jakovic listened as navy officials told her that
   scott accidentally had shot himself with his own weapon while alone on
   guard duty at earle.
   it was all there in black and white, on a single typed sheet called
   report of casualty form dd-1300, filled out just nine days after scott
   died: "self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head."
   the quick ruling ate away at jakovic. it was so unlike scott to do
   something so irresponsible, she thought: he was so careful with guns.
   and she knew from his visits home that he wanted out of earle, where
   he told her that commanders overlooked security violations and drug
   use by servicemen.
   the more jakovic pressed the ncis for information, the more
   implausible the official version of events seemed to her: a weapons
   expert with no history of psychological or discipline problems
   suddenly shot himself at a busy guard station in the middle of the
   afternoon-and nobody saw it.
   what jakovic didn't know was that , just 10 hours after her son's
   death, a marine guard had told an ncis agent that he had seen marine
   pvt. edward markovitch put a hun to jakovic's head minutes before the
   shooting. the navy did not reveal that information for four months.
   finally, in february 1992, the ncis said there had been a witness to
   jakovic's death after all: pvt. markovitch. the navy charged
   markovitch with involuntary manslaughter in connection with jakovic's
   there was another, unrelated charge against markovitch: cocaine use.
   after military trial last year, markovitch was convicted of the drug
   charge. but he was acquitted of manslaughter, in part because navy
   agents failed to properly read him his rights and lost crucial
   the ncis then let stand the original ruling that jakovic had shot
   himself-while playing russian roulette with a 9mm automatic.
   "apparently, there are no facts-just the nis version of facts,"
   jakovic said recently, still not certain exactly how her son died.
   during two military hearing for makovitch, held in philadelphia in
   1992, jakovic learned the full scope of the navy's bungled
   investigation. according to testimony.
   ncis agents allowed markovitch to drink a soda and go to the bathroom
   before swabbing his hands for possible evidence that he had fired a
   weapon. a gunshot residue test was inconclusive.
   an ncis agent allowed a marine to handle the gun that killed jakovic,
   thus tainting a crucial piece of evidence.
   ncis agents based their initial riling that jakovic had killed himself
   largely on a panicked phone call by markovitch moments after the
   shooting, in which he told a superior that jakovic had "shot himself".
   markovitch admitted to a supervisor minutes after the shooting that he
   and jakovic had been "messing around" with their weapons and that he
   had drawn his own gun, the supervisor said. jakovic was 'very careless
   with his pistol," warrant officer harold evan said.
   lance cpl. jerome barry had told the ncis the day jakovic died that he
   had seen markovitch hold a gun to jakovic's head minutes before the
   shooting. "i know jakovic pretty good, and i can say that it was
   unusual to hear that he was playing around with his gun, barry said.
   in august 1992, markovitch's roommate told the ncis that markovitch
   had told him he had accidentally shot jakovic after the two discussed
   russian roulette scene from the film deerhunter.
   lance cpl. todd harris sad markovitch told him that markovitch and
   jakovic were "messing around" with their weapons when markovitch asked
   whether jakovic thought the gun on a table had a bullet in the
   "he (markovitch) told me he then racked the slide back and forward.
   then asked jakovic again, if there was a round in the chamber....,
   harris said in a statement, "markovitch then pointed the weapon at
   jakovic and said "lets find out." he told me he then pulled the
   trigger." shooting jakovic in the head.
   markovitch's civilian attorney, gary rogers, said last week that
   harris' was full of holes" that the navy decided not to call him as a
   witness. myers said prosecutors could not prove that jakovic's hands
   or that the two guards had played russian roulette.
   markovitch was convicted of negligent dereliction of duty, fined
   $1,500, and reduced in rank.
   myers accused the navy of making markovitch as scapegoat to cover up
   weapons violations at earle.
   "they have condoned dereliction at every level of that command," he
   said in court. several marines testified that superiors tolerated gun
   horseplay and security breaches.
   asked for comment, the spokeswoman at earle said it was base policy
   not to discuss security procedures.
   "this is horrendous," james w. keefe. i spent 21 years as an army
   criminal investigator, said of the ncis investigation after viewing
   the case. "there is no way this is self-inflicted death.
   keefe said the navy botched the case badly that proving what really
   happened be difficult. "the handling of evidence is atrocious," he
   today, catherine jakovic says she is more angry at the military than
   at markovitch who she said "put his head in my lap and bawled like a
   baby" at scott's funeral.
   "my son is dead and gone as far as they are concerned," she said of
   the navy. "they won't change that self-inflicted ruling so they can
   close their case."
   in her mind, she said , her son's case will never be closed. the
   indignities never see no end.
   in april, she said, the military denied the family's claim for scott
   jokovic's 51,200 death benefit. in a terse letter, the department of
   veterans affairs gave a reason:
   "the veterans death was due to his own willful misconduct."
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