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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