Marine pleads not guilty in abuse case

By ELLIOT SPAGAT, Associated Press Writer
Mon Sep 10, 10:59 PM ET

A Marine drill instructor accused of kicking, punching and spitting on recruits for their mistakes pleaded not guilty Monday to assault and other charges.

Sgt. Mark A. Delarosa, 25, of Hemet, entered the plea at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, one of the Corps' two training depots. Prosecutors said he did things such as striking recruits in the eyes with a set of keys and kicking a recruit in the shin for failing to properly greet an instructor.

"He corrected them each by giving them a little bit of pain to remember the memory," prosecutor Capt. Brent Stricker said in opening statements.

Delarosa is charged with 13 counts — four for assault, five for violating orders, two for making a false statement and one each for maltreatment and provoking speech. If convicted, he faces up to one year in confinement.

His lawyer, Capt. Patrick Callahan, said his client was a "very intense" instructor who trained more than 900 recruits but did not break the rules. He described him as a taskmaster who dreaded the prospect of telling spouses that his trainees died in Iraq because they were unprepared for war.

"This is the Marines, not the Air Force, not the Army," Callahan said. "We push these recruits. We say mean things to recruits."

One recruit, Jared Arvanitas of South Jordan, Utah, testified that Delarosa kicked him in the shin in January for improperly positioning his feet during instruction, bruising him so badly that it was difficult for him to walk or get out of bed. Delarosa also once spat in his face while demanding more exercise, he said.

"He pretty much made me dislike the Marine Corps," Arvanitas said.

In a separate case Monday, another Marine drill instructor, Sgt. Brian M. Wendel, did not enter a plea to 18 counts of abusing recruits, but his attorney insisted he was innocent.

Defense attorney Capt. Jahn Olson said Wendel had been unfairly linked to another drill instructor on his team, Sgt. Jerrod M. Glass, who was charged last month with 225 counts of abusing recruits in 110 suspected incidents between Dec. 23, 2006 and Feb. 10.

"This is one of those cases of guilt by association," Olson told reporters.

Wendel, 30, of Columbus, Ohio, was charged with two counts of assault, three of maltreatment and one of damaging personal property. The Marine also faces charges of concealing serious offenses, dereliction of duty and making false official statements.

Lt. Col. Eugene Robinson, the military judge overseeing the case, set a Dec. 10 court-martial date. Wendel, an eight-year military veteran who remains on active duty, faces up to a years' confinement if convicted.

Glass, who had worked as a drill sergeant for less than a year when the alleged mistreatment occurred, was relieved of duty as a drill instructor in February. He is scheduled to go to court-martial Nov. 8. If convicted, he faces up to 269 years in confinement.

No member of the platoon was seriously injured, according to the Marines.