(RALEIGH, N.C.) — A Marine Corps drill instructor has been sentenced to 10 years behind bars after being convicted of tormenting and abusing young recruits, especially Muslim-Americans, including one who later killed himself.
A military jury also ordered Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Felix, a 34-year-old Iraq veteran, to forfeit all pay, be demoted to private and given a dishonorable discharge.
Friday’s sentencing at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, came after Felix begged for forgiveness before the eight-member jury, which a day earlier convicted him of abusing more than a dozen trainees at the Marine boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina.
Felix was convicted of dozens of criminal violations as the jury on Thursday found he taunted three Muslim recruits as “terrorists” or “ISIS” and ordered two of them to climb into an industrial clothes dryer, spinning one of them around in the scorching machine until he renounced his faith.
Defense attorney Navy Lt. Cmdr. Daniel Bridges declined a request to comment on the conviction and sentencing.
Felix was a central figure among a group of abusive drill instructors at Parris Island, the jury was told. After the March 2016 suicide at the base, a hazing investigation led to charges against Felix, five other drill instructors and the training battalion’s commanding officer. Eleven others faced lesser discipline.
Abusive drill instructors have long been stock characters in books and movies such as “Full Metal Jacket,” a 1987 film set during the Vietnam War. Yet the Felix trial shows that the Marines have since drawn clearer lines between what instructors can and cannot do, said Michael Hanzel, a former Navy attorney who attended the proceedings at Camp Lejeune.
“This generation now, there’s things that I think that we’re much more focused on … in this trial, it’s calling people names based on their religion and targeting people based on their religion,” said Hanzel, now a private attorney specializing in military law. “I don’t think anyone would say that was acceptable ever, but it probably was not prosecuted in the past the way it would be now.”
The charges against Felix included commanding recruits to choke each other; ordering them to drink chocolate milk and then training them until they vomited; and punching recruits in the face or kicking them to the ground.
“He wasn’t making Marines. He was breaking Marines,” prosecutor Lt. Col. John Norman told the jury on Wednesday. He called Felix a…