A Marine Corps drill instructor was convicted by a military jury Thursday of physically abusing young recruits — sometimes while intoxicated — and focusing his rage on three Muslim-American military volunteers.
Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Felix, 34, was found guilty of hazing and maltreatment of recruits at the Marine Corps’ Parris Island, S.C., boot camp, an eight-man jury at Camp Lejeune, N.C., determined.
The Iraq veteran was slated to be sentenced Friday and could face time in a military prison, as well as financial penalties and a dishonorable discharge. The Washington Post reported Felix would appeal if he received “more than a year in prison or is given an other-than-honorable discharge from the military.”
“[Felix was] drunk on power — and sometimes Fireball whiskey.”
Charged with more than three dozen criminal counts, Felix was accused of being a central figure in an abusive group of drill instructors at Parris Island, a scandal that came to light after the March 2016 suicide of one of the three Muslim-American recruits he targeted.
In March 2016, Raheel Siddiqui, 20, a Pakistani-American from Taylor, Mich., committed suicide by jumping off a stairwell after Felix yelled at him and slapped him, prosecutors said. Siddiqui’s family filed a $100 million wrongful death lawsuit last month against the Marine Corps.
Lance Cpl. Shane McDevitt, one of Siddiqui’s fellow recruits in his platoon, testified Felix called the Pakistani-American a “terrorist” some 10 times.
Two other Muslim recruits said Felix once pressured them into an industrial clothes dryer and turned it on.
Trainee Lance Cpl. Ameer Bourmeche testified Felix forced him into a clothes dryer and turned it on as Felix demanded he renounce his Islamic faith. Bourmeche testified he twice affirmed his creed and twice Felix and another drill instructor sent him for a bruising, scorching tumble inside the dryer. After a third spin, Bourmeche said he feared for his life and renounced his faith. The drill instructors then let him out, he said.
Lt. Col. John Norman, the prosecutor, said Felix “picked out Muslim recruits for special abuse because of their Muslim faith. He degraded their religion and put them in industrial appliances.”
Norman claimed Felix was “drunk on power, and sometimes Fireball whiskey,” he told the jury.
“He wasn’t making Marines – he was breaking Marines,” Norman said.
Other charges against Felix stemmed from a series of disturbing acts involving more than a dozen recruits. They included commanding recruits to choke each other, ordering them to drink chocolate milk and then training them until they vomited and punching recruits in the face or kicking them to the ground.
A hazing investigation led to charges against Felix, five other drill instructors and the training battalion’s commanding officer. Eleven others faced lesser, administrative discipline. Felix also was convicted of lying to investigators.
Felix had pleaded not guilty and did not testify during his trial.
Felix also was convicted of drunk and disorderly conduct and making false official statements.
Felix was permanently removed from his duties as a drill instructor after the investigation began, Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Joshua Pena said.
Felix’s chief defense attorney, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Daniel Bridges, said Wednesday the dozens of prosecution witnesses gave contradictory accounts the government unfairly fashioned into a case against the brawny drill instructor who allegedly called all recruits “terrorist.” Young men told investigators fanciful stories including one in which Felix grabbed a recruit by the throat and lifted him off the ground with one arm, Bridges said.
Felix has served in the Marines since 2002 and is married with four children, The Washington Post reported.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.