Injustice For All

07.25.14

U.S. Soldiers, Accused of Rape in Italy, Hope to Go Free in America

Do the military’s controversial status of forces agreements, or SOFAs, wind up protecting criminals? Italian prosecutors think so.

ROME, Italy — Two American military men based near the northern Italian town of Vicenza have been charged with raping, beating and stealing from a 24-year-old pregnant Romanian woman.

The American paratroopers identified in the Italian press as Gray Lamarcus, 22, and Ides McCough, 21, were arrested on Thursday after the unnamed Romanian woman, who reportedly sometimes works as a prostitute, pressed formal charges against the men.

The incident allegedly took place on the night of July 14, when the military men arranged for a ménage à trois with the woman.  But, according to police documents related to the case, when the three met in an agreed forest clearing, the Americans had other ideas.  They refused to pay the Romanian woman, who is six months pregnant, and instead took turns forcefully raping and beating her.  They then allegedly stole the money from her handbag.  According to her lawyer, Alessandra Bocchi, the woman’s back was badly scratched from branches and her face and stomach were badly bruised from the beating. Her unborn child is not in imminent danger.

According to Italian press reports, Lamarcus was already under investigation and supposed to be under surveillance by the US 173d Airborne Brigade, which he is part of, for a November 2013 incident in which he was accused of attacking a 17-year-old girl outside the discotheque Ca’ di Dennis in Vicenza.   At the time, Lamarcus’s superiors reportedly tried to get him transferred to a base in Germany, but the request was denied.  He was awaiting his preliminary criminal hearing in that case in a civil court in Vicenza when the latest incident took place.  The court date had been postponed several times due to scheduling conflicts with lawyers and the paratrooper, who was still on active duty despite the formal accusation.

The men were questioned last week by Italian authorities about the rape of the pregnant woman.  Lamarcus was then hospitalized for attempting suicide.  He is recovering in the same small hospital in Vicenza where the Romanian woman has been treated for her injuries.

The mayor of Vicenza, Achille Variati, who has complained previously about the behavior of the American men from the base, has made a formal request to Italian Justice Minister Andrea Orlando asking that the men be charged in Italy rather than being given over to the American military in accordance with the SOFA or Status of Forces Agreement, which mandates that American soldiers accused of crimes in foreign countries have a right to be tried in their own U.S. military courts rather than in the local communities. 

SOFAs often are contentious problems for local politicians in the host countries. They have raised protests in Okinawa, where many crimes have been committed by American servicemen; in Iraq, where failure to come to terms about the SOFA eventually played a role terminating the American military presence in that country; and in Afghanistan where the SOFA still has not been finalized.

Italians are particularly sensitive on this issue after a 1998 incident when American Marines joyriding in an EA-6B Prowler jet sliced through a ski lift cable, sending 20 people in the gondola to their death near the northern Italian resort town of Cermis.  The four military men in the jet were whisked away and tried in the United States.  Charges were dropped against three of the men and Captain Richard J. Ashby was initially acquitted in a military court in North Carolina after investigations showed that the cable was not on his maps.  The men later were retried after revelations that they destroyed the in-flight videotape of the incident.  Ashby was found guilty and sentenced to six months for the accident. He was freed after just four months.

One of the soldiers already was under investigation for attacking a 17-year-old girl.

There have been other incidents in Italy involving military men in Vicenza who are left unpunished, including the 2004 rape of a Nigerian woman by an American soldier who had just returned from Iraq, and a 2012 hit and run accident when three soldiers ran over pedestrians at a crosswalk in Vicenza and sped away without stopping. The Romanian woman’s rape may well fall into the same category.  “In accordance with SOFA, the United States has asked the host nation for a transfer of jurisdiction,” 173rd Brigade spokesman Mike Weisman said in a statement.

Italy’s justice minister says he will fight the SOFA requirements. “The hypothesis that the U.S. military is in our country yet asks to judge the two soldiers who raped and beat a pregnant woman in our country is unacceptable," Orlando said.  “Especially considering the aggravating circumstance of recidivism for one of the soldiers who had previously done the same thing to a minor in Vicenza. "

The Romanian woman’s lawyers said that the American arrogance was unacceptable.  “We are asking the base to cooperate, but we are getting the silent treatment,” Bocchi said. McCough is protected inside the American base for the time being, but since Lamarcus is in a civilian hospital in Vicenza, Italy has the upper hand if it wants to take him into custoy, at least for now.

If history is any guide and the SOFA stands up, however, the two Americans may well escape the judgment of the Italian courts, even if they are convicted in the eyes of the Italian public.