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Witnesses: Marine Murdered in 'Party' Barracks, Commanders Ignored Warning Signs

Darren Evans, the Marine facing charges in the beating death of Lance Cpl. Mario Arias, had been suicidal but allowed to drink by leaders, witnesses said in military hearing Thursday.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include a response to the incident by a unit commander. See attached PDF file for the document. 

The Camp Pendleton dorms where on Nov. 6 was described by witnesses Thursday as a "party barracks" where underage Marines, including the lance corporal facing charges in the killing, would regularly drink alcohol in the presence of superiors.

Lance Cpl. Darren J. Evans stands accused of murder, assault and violation of a lawful order in connection Arias’ death. Evans and Arias, both 19 at the time, were students at Marine Light Attack Helicopter Training Squadron 303 and living as roommates in the dormitory for enlisted personnel and non-commissioned officers.

“Easily we can say it’s been a party barracks,” said Hospital Corpsman Third Class Austin R. Smith at Evans' Article 32 hearing, which will establish what kind of court martial Evans will face — if any at all.

Two days before Arias’ death, Lance Cpl. Steven D. Strine said he found an apparently intoxicated Evans wearing a trench coat, boxers and combat boots in a truck that was not his. Strine was on weekend duty, he said. He along with another lance corporal carried Evans to his room and discarded his alcohol. Strine said he knew Evans had previously been placed on suicide watch, so confiscated an eight-inch knife and razor blades from Evans.

Strine planned to submit a report Monday to the unit’s chain of command, admitting he planned to keep the incident under wraps over the weekend to avoid any rumors.

On the evening of Nov. 5, Corpsman Smith saw a barefooted and apparently drunk Evans eating potato chips. When Smith asked Evans where his shoes were, the Marine responded by saying he didn’t have any.

“It was very odd, but odd things happen in the barracks,” Smith said.

Smith recounted how Evans then left and a sergeant followed to check on him. When the sergeant returned, he said that Evans had punched him. The two ran to Evans’ third-floor room and heard a thud. They peaked over the catwalk and saw Evans lying on the ground on his side; the corpsman said he ran down to render aid and saw Evans vomiting a clear liquid that smelled of alcohol.

“That feels better,” Smith recalled Evans saying.

When paramedics arrived to treat Evans, Lance Cpl. Jacob M. Saucedo ran into Evans’ room to search for an identification card. There he found Arias on his bed, bloodied and dead. Next to him lay a crowbar.

Saucedo said he had been concerned by Evans and believed he began to suffer emotionally after a girl he liked moved away to Virginia.

“I could see a progression in his depression,” he said of the weeks following up to Arias’ death.

He and two other Marines sent letters to the base chain of command urging that they get help for Evans. But Saucedo said they never did.

While some witnesses described Evans as a “distant” Marine with a drinking problem, Lance Cpl. David A. Cartes, who lived in a nearby room, described Evans as someone who treated him well although other Marines didn’t.

“He was kind of the friendly guy I’d see in the hallway,” he said.

During one recess in the proceedings, Evans walked out of the courtroom and passed Arias’ family members, some of whom stared at him. Escorted by military guards assigned to the brig, the accused Marine didn’t make eye contact as he left.

The hearing is expected to wrap up on Friday. The investigating officer, Lt. Col. Doug Gardner, has up to 20 days to recommend charges and the type of court martial, if any, that could be held to Major Gen. Andrew W. O’Donnell, Jr. commanding general, 3d Marine Aircraft Wing.

If convicted of all the charges he faces, Evans could face life in prison with no possibility of parole, the U-T San Diego reports.

Col. Shaun L. Sadler, commander of Marine Aircraft Group 39, which is responsible for the barracks, released a Nov. 28 memo in that shows a response of increased leadership presence at the troubled barracks. The rounds a squadron staff duty officer must make to dormitories tripled to six visits on weekdays and eight visits on weekends and holidays, according to Miramar spokesperson 1st Lt. Maureen Dooley. It also guides the officers and noncommissioned officers doing the visits to familiarize themselves with drug and alcohol policies and to report violations immediately.

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Debra LeCompte April 22, 2013 at 10:25 AM
You know, I have never seen an commander's plan signed like that... of course all I've seen is Army, but a commander in the Army always signs with his rank, not just his name... As a military installation, Camp Pendleton has a track record that is despicable. There have been murders committed by service people against service people at that installation until it is getting ridiculous. A Marine in a "sex cult" kidnapped, raped and tortured, then murdered the wife of a deployed Marine... what the heck is going on out there? The rapes reported at that installation are greater in number than on any other installation. Commanding Officer S. L. Sadler needs to get up from that desk, and start making a few of those rounds himself, get a handle on what is going on where... There is more than one of those Marines demonstrating they are having severe mental health issues. It is obvious that Sadler doesn't have what it takes to command. He can't exercise control over his troops. Get somebody in there who can... The easiest way to start lining things out is to court martial Officer Sadler for dereliction of duty.... that will highly influence all the junior officers to clean up their watch in a hurry.
David Cartes September 06, 2013 at 11:36 PM
You don't know what you're talking about. These issues that had been ongoing were not being "neglected" Someone who is unstable does not get better over night, it takes time. Measures were being taken to prevent something like this however, there are always extreme circumstances that can lead to things like this despite precautions made. It was not a "party barracks" as the doc described and he does not accurately represent the image of what had taken place. Col. Sadler is not at fault for the occurrences that had taken place. Camp Pendleton is the largest west coast Marine installation and therefore more can happen. You don't have all the facts and therefore your thoughts on the matter are extreme as you are only seeing the overall picture through a keyhole.
Debra LeCompte October 15, 2013 at 10:09 AM
I do know military policy, if it happens on your watch, you are responsible. I believe the Commandant of the Marines is taking a direction concerning that concept that, at least on the surface, appears hard line. He is relieving folks like crazy over such things. For instance, Gen West back in the spring relieved the commandant of Officer Candidates Training School. By all accounts the man relieved was an outstanding man of honor and integrity, leading with unquestionable talent and devotion. There was a murder suicide only God himself could have predicted, and the commandant was gone.
Debra LeCompte October 15, 2013 at 10:21 AM
I would agree I have "extreme" thoughts on this matter, and the keyhole view is the one constructed by the Marine leadership, designed to keep civilians and others out of the loop. That is an unacceptable position to those of us who have given birth to Soldiers, or who are married to Soldiers. I have been both. For far too long, who does your OER, what it takes to get promoted to that next rank, and officers "reigning" instead of leading, along with the incestuous officer selection boards has been leading our military. Civilians do have the right to demand full disclosure in these matters. We, in good faith, support the service of our children and spouses, which I can tell you is no small sacrifice, and when the military is through with them, they return to us. We expect and demand due diligence, devotion to duty, unquestionable honor and integrity, and full disclosure when things go South, and hang your career... and we have a right to...
Debra LeCompte October 15, 2013 at 10:38 AM
Camp Pendleton is a hot bed of incidents, from road rage, to murder, and of course, that is where the female Marine was prosecuted, found guilty, and punished for "attempted adultery," ... whatever that is... The male Marine she had the one night stand with went uncharged. He, "didn't know she was married, and she didn't look too drunk" to him... I believe it is the written policy of your Commandant, in fact I have downloaded the poster with his picture on it that states, "If someone is under the influence, they con not consent." Yet I haven't seen anything about discipline against, or the removal of leadership at Pendleton that would reflect your Commandant's written and well publicized stance, despite the murders, and there are many, the sex cults, the "party barracks" (not my term, but a quote from a Marine stationed at Camp P.) incidents of road rage, and your Military Sexual Assault numbers are flat scary... Inquiring minds want to know...

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