A rational actor should not be overeager to join “Brothers of the Struggle” or “Gangster Disciples” (“BOS”), primarily comprised of a group of servicemen with too much idle time on their hands who were stationed at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany. BOS is said to be related to the Gangster Disciples, an American gang with roots in Chicago and corresponding individual “sets,” or local groups, around the world. (The BOS group was said to engage in fistfights but supposedly didn’t engage in other criminal activities.) “Initiation” in BOS meant that a new member would be beaten up in a “jump-in,” during which approximately six BOS members would hit the initiate for about six minutes, striking blows between the neck and the waist. The initiate could not defend himself in any way. During jump-ins initiates were asked repeatedly if they wanted to proceed. If the initiate declined, the initiation ended; otherwise if the initiate acceded, it continued. After a jump-in, the new member would be hugged, kissed on the cheek, shown the BOS handshake, and taken out to celebrate. In the past, about fifteen to eighteen jump-ins had occurred and no one had been hospitalized or injured.
Rico Williams changed the rules of the “game” during Army Sergeant Juwan Johnson’s hazing. Williams was an ex-serviceman who was living at Ramstein as a dependent of his wife, who was also an Airman. Williams struck Johnson several times in the face during a jump-in that nine, not the usual six, BOS members joined in. As events transpired, the hazing continued, even though Johnson kept saying he was all right, and went on after Johnson had fallen to the ground and was kicked by members. Although Johnson never lost consciousness, he died within hours of the beating. (The sad details are at pages 3-4 of Circuit Judge Griffith’s majority opinion.)
Williams was charged under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act of 2000 (“MEJA”), which provides federal jurisdiction over crimes committed by a civilian accompanying the Armed Forces outside the United States (18 U.S.C. § 3261 et seq.), with second degree murder on an American installation. In addition he was accused of witness tampering (18 U.S.C. § 1512(b)(3)). (Slip Op. at 5-6). An autopsy revealed “blunt force injuries” to Johnson’s brain and heart, which the Government’s medical expert opined had caused Johnson’ death. The defense medical expert, in turn, asserted that the cause of death was sickle-cell trait, a typically asymptomatic genetic condition, and that “superficial blunt impact injuries” were merely a “contributing” cause of death. (Slip Op. at 5). Williams was convicted of the murder count and received a 22-year sentence and a concurrent ten-year sentence on one of the tampering counts. (Id. at 6-7).