ANCHORAGE, Alaska (CBS Seattle/AP) — A jury acquitted an Army soldier on Thursday of manslaughter and homicide charges in the death of a friend during a drunken game of Russian roulette.
The jurors returned not guilty verdicts on manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide charges for Jacob Brouch, 27. He was found guilty of a weapons misconduct charge, a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.
Brouch choked back tears after the jury forewoman read the not-guilty verdict on the second felony.
“Justice has been served,” he said afterward. “The justice system worked the way it should.”
Prosecutors contended that reckless conduct by both Brouch and Michael McCloskey during a 36-hour drinking binge led to McCloskey’s death. They said it was Brouch who handed his 26-year-old friend the bullet and the six-shot revolver after McCloskey repeatedly expressed his hatred of Russian roulette.
After a day and a half of drinking beer, whiskey and Jagermeister and playing with guns while posing for photos, Brouch handed his friend “the keys to unlocking his own destruction” when he twice demonstrated how to play Russian roulette, Assistant District Attorney Joe Kovac said in closing arguments Wednesday.
McCloskey, of Beverly, N.J., stayed at Brouch’s house near Anchorage on March 5, 2011, to avoid returning to Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson because he was inebriated. The two Army buddies continued drinking and embarked on a two-day binge in which they roughhoused, talked in fake Russian accents and posed with the guns in pictures that McCloskey wanted to post on Facebook, prosecutors said.
Brouch played Russian roulette in front of two of his stepchildren at one point but told them the gun was unloaded so it was safe, prosecutors said. McCloskey became upset with Brouch for playing the game in front of the boys.
Russian roulette is traditionally played by inserting one bullet into a gun, then passing the weapon around a circle. Each person participating pulls the trigger with the gun pointed in their direction when their turn comes.
Prosecutors said as the drinking continued, the gun was brought back out but loaded.
Brouch pointed the gun at his chest and head and pulled the trigger. He told McCloskey it was safe since Brouch could see where the bullet was in the chamber, prosecutors said.
Later, both men wound up in the bathroom, where McCloskey shot himself, prosecutors said.
Public defender Dunnington Babb said during closing arguments that the state’s theory that somehow Brouch got control of McCloskey’s mind and dissolved his commonsense was insulting. It was McCloskey who decided to pull the trigger, he said.
Assistant District Attorney Joe Kovac said after the verdict that prosecutors’ first thoughts were with McCloskey’s loved ones. He said he has been in regular communication with McCloskey’s wife and father.
He acknowledged the difficulty of the case.
“It was a challenging case. We knew that from the get-go. But it was an important case. A life was lost. There was guns and alcohol. It was important to present that to the community. We had what we felt was good law — law of causation,” he said.
Brouch will be sentenced on the misdemeanor at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. Superior Court Judge Gregory Miller ordered his $50,000 bail to remain in place but lifted the requirement for ankle monitoring and a third-party presence.
Brouch’s mother, Donna Brouch, broke down in tears before the verdict was read and after.
“I’ve very grateful,” she said. “I’m incredibly relieved. It’s been a very long road. Through this whole thing, I hope there have been lessons learned all around.”
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