Marine Found Guilty of Manslaughter in Stabbing, Anti-Gay Epithet Case
On Dec. 2, a D.C. Superior Court jury found Michael Poth, 22, of Washington, guilty of manslaughter while armed in the fatal stabbing of 24-year-old fellow Marine Philip Bushong in the city's Barracks Row neighborhood during the early morning hours of April 21, 2012.
Poth was originally tried on a charge of second-degree murder while armed, but the jury initially deadlocked on a decision. Poth's lawyer, Bernard Grimm, made a motion for a mistrial, which was denied by D.C. Superior Court Judge Russell F. Canan. Canan then instructed the jury that to either choose to convict Poth on the more serious charge - murder - or on a ''lesser included offense'' of manslaughter, meaning a charge that meets the same basic criteria needed for a conviction on the more serious charge.
After receiving instructions, the jury found Poth guilty of second-degree voluntary manslaughter, meaning he planned or intended to attack Bushong, but only to cause him bodily harm and not to kill him. Canan has scheduled Poth's sentencing for Feb. 7. According to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia, a charge of voluntary manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of 60 years in prison.
The reduction of the charge from murder to voluntary manslaughter signals a success on the part of Poth's defense team to cast doubt on whether Poth maliciously attacked Bushong, or whether, as Grimm argued in trial, Poth had been provoked and was attempting to defend himself following a verbal altercation with Bushong that quickly turned physical. Poth's defense team also successfully managed to have some of Poth's more incriminating statements suppressed, meaning the jury was not allowed to hear about them during trial.
The statements in question included: ''Call me boots and the fight started''; "The Marine Corps controls my mind. I don't control my mind''; ''He was talking shit, so I stabbed him''; and ''He punched me in the face, so I stabbed him.'' Those statements were thrown out by Canan after a responding Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officer conceded that he might have asked Poth a direct question prior to reading him his Miranda rights, even though the second officer on scene testified that when they arrived on scene Poth's outbursts had been spontaneous.
According to the government's evidence, Poth and Bushong did not know each other prior to the event, but crossed paths when they were in the area near the 700 block of 8th Street SE, near the U.S. Marine Barracks. Poth walked by Bushong, who was with a group of friends at a local restaurant and bar. Shortly after Poth went by, Bushong yelled something at Poth, who took out a small pocket knife and waved it at Bushong and his friends, muttering that he was going to ''cut someone's fucking lungs out.''
Minutes later, Poth, after circling the block, approached Bushong, who was talking to a friend. Video from security cameras had previously shown Bushong and his friend, who happened to be gay, embracing during Poth's first pass by the restaurant. Poth uttered an anti-gay slur at the two, after which Bushong followed Poth and the two began arguing.
Bushong grabbed Poth's shoulder and drew back his fist to punch Poth. Poth stated, ''I'm going to stab you,'' and pulled out his knife, hitting Bushong once in the chest. Bushong was transported to an area hospital and died of his injuries two hours later.
''Today a District of Columbia jury held Michael Poth accountable for stabbing a fellow Marine to death on a public street near their barracks,'' U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Ronald Machen Jr. said in a statement announcing Poth's conviction. ''Their guilty verdict makes clear that our community will not tolerate the deadly violence that so often arises from petty disputes. We hope that this decision brings some measure of comfort to the family and friends of the young Marine killed that night.''