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FORT HOOD, Texas — Citing a technicality, a military judge on Monday dismissed sexual abuse charges against a soldier in the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, accused of hazing a fellow soldier while stationed in Iraq.
Judge Lt. Col. Patricia Lewis dropped charges of aggravated sexual misconduct and conspiracy to commit maltreatment against Spc. Benjamin Hill, citing the government's failure to bring Hill to trial within an allotted 120-day period. It was the second time Hill's charges have been dismissed.
A previous judge for the case, Col. Kirsten Brunson, dismissed charges against Hill on March 8. But Brunson reversed the ruling three weeks later after Army prosecutors appealed.
By the time the judge made her decision, she had already authenticated a court record of the dismissal. When she signed the authentication, it eliminated the Fort Hood court's ability to overturn the previous dismissal, Lewis said.
"This court does not have the jurisdiction at this time," Lewis told the court.
Hill can still face trial if the ruling is overturned by the Army Court of Criminal Appeals. Prosecutors began preparing an appeal immediately after Lewis made her ruling.
Hill, assigned to 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, smiled after the ruling and embraced his defense attorney, Capt. Justin Oshana. Hill faced the most serious charges stemming from alleged sexual abused that resulted from the hazing of Spc. Jarett Wright.
The Herald does not identify victims of sexual assault, but Wright has said he wanted to use his name to bring awareness to sexual assault and hazing in the military.
Wright told the Herald in April he was dissatisfied with the outcomes of the subsequent courts-martial of his other attackers in the group assault.
When reached Monday, Wright said he could not comment because of ongoing legal proceedings. Hill's defense attorney signaled an intent to use media reports to discredit Wright when he testified.
Among witnesses subpoenaed for the court-martial were multiple area reporters who covered Wright's story after he decided to go public about the alleged abuses.
Those abuses occurred when Wright was transferred to Charlie "Crazy" Troop's 1st Platoon in late 2010. Two noncommissioned officers have already been tried and found guilty of conspiracy to commit maltreatment.
Sgt. Josue Nunez-Byers was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison and dishonorable discharge from the Army. Sgt. Brian S. Cornell was reprimanded, reduced in rank to a private first class and sentenced to 120 days in confinement, according to information from the III Corps public affairs office.
Along with Hill, the men allegedly held Wright down and took turns grabbing his genitals and sodomizing him.
Two other noncommissioned officers were implicated in other abuse accusations by soldiers within Charlie Troop. One was given immunity in exchange for testimony. The other was acquitted.