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Soldier pleads guilty to killing Fort Leonard Wood soldier's wife with knife
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (Aug. 28, 2009) — An Army medical specialist accused of killing another soldier’s wife broke down in tears today as he pleaded guilty this afternoon at Fort Leonard Wood to a lesser charge of unpremeditated murder, in return for military prosecutors dropping other charges and a recommendation of a lighter sentence than the maximum of life in prison with no possibility of parole.

“I know it happened in a remote area on a dirt road … I was sitting there and watched her bleed after I cut her with the knife,” said Spec. Jermaine Johnson, 26, in open court during a military trial.

Johnson had originally been charged with intent to deceive or provide false statements, premeditated murder, sodomy, assault with intent to inflict grievous bodily harm, adultery, kidnapping, and obstruction of justice. All charges except the murder charge were dropped by military prosecutors, and the murder charge was changed to a lesser included offense of non-premeditated murder.

Johnson pleaded not guilty to all other offenses, but admitted to killing Myria Silva, the wife of another Fort Leonard Wood junior enlisted soldier, in a rural Webster County farmstead near Springfield on Oct. 10 while Silva’s husband was deployed to Iraq. Civilian prosecutors in Webster County released jurisdiction to the Army, which is common when both the victims and suspects are connected with the military, since military prosecutors can often process the cases more quickly and the Uniform Code of Military Justice often allows higher penalties than would be likely under civilian law.

Johnson was arrested Oct. 14 by Fort Leonard Wood military authorities, four days after Silva was killed. Military prosecutors say Johnson was having an affair with Silva, who was 23 at the time of her death and the mother of two young children. At the time of Silva’s death, Johnson, a member of the Army Reserve’s 7223rd Medical Support Detachment 10 from Mobile, Ala., was serving in General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital as a health care specialist.

Johnson’s court martial has been postponed several times. It was previously set for May 18 to 20, moved to a new date of May 20 to 22, and then rescheduled for June 29 to July 1.

According to court-martial procedure, Johnson was questioned by a military judge, Col. Charles Hayes, on the details of the crime. He admitted to driving to a secluded spot before dawn on Oct. 10 with Silva in the car with him.

“She was not awake because of things I had done earlier; I had taken her out of the car and laid her on the ground,” Johnson said. “She was still asleep… I had a kitchen knife I had taken from my house. I was thinking about killing myself, I was angry and scared, and I had time while I was driving to think about what I was doing.”

Johnson said that when the sun began to rise, Silva began to wake up.

“It scared me,” Johnson said. “I knelt over her and began punching her. I hit her with my left hand as hard as I could, and after I hit her with my left hand, I hit her with my right hand.”

That, Johnson said, made the injuries much worse than he had intended because he was holding the kitchen knife in his right hand.

“The knife went across her throat and cut her really bad,” Johnson said. “My intent at the time was to hit her as hard as I could to knock her out so she wouldn’t wake up.”

Responding to questions from the judge on why he was “scared,” Johnson admitted that he had no legal grounds such as “self defense or any other good reason” for killing Silva, and said that while he was drunk at the time of the incident, he knew what he was doing.

“You said you were scared. What were you scared of?” Hayes asked.

“I was scared of what was going to happen to me, and scared of the consequences of what I was doing,” Johnson said. “I watched her as she bled from the cut in her neck and did nothing as I watched her die.”

Johnson has already served 320 days of pretrial confinement in the case since he was arrested in October.

Because Johnson declined a jury trial, Hayes will review the case this afternoon and make a determination of what sentence he believes is warranted. If Hayes’ sentence is lower than the pretrial agreement — which has not yet been announced — Johnson will receive the judge’s sentence. If the pretrial agreement is less than Hayes’ sentence, the pretrial agreement will serve as his punishment.

In addition to life in military prison with no possibility of parole, the maximum penalty for Johnson also includes a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and benefits, and a reduction in rank to E1, the lowest category of private.

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