Marine Staff Sergeant Nadya Lopez found not guilty in death of Parris Island recruit

(Parris Island) February 22, 2006 - Marine Staff Sergeant Nadya Lopez has been found not guilty on charges of negligent homicide in the drowning death of recruit Jason Tharp.

Tharp's mother, Linda, cried as the verdict was read and said, "I hope you see Jason every time you turn around and hear him screaming."

Several Marines testified that Tharp did not want to go in the pool and yelled loudly to get out during a survival floating exercise.

Tharp's father said, "I feel like our son just got killed again. There is no justice at Parris Island."

The Lopez family says they are happy about the verdict and the Tharp family is in their prayers.

Lopez says the decision reflects autopsy results that the death was an accident. She says she has not decided if she will stay in the military.

Major Mark Griffith began deliberating Wednesday after hearing closing arguments from both sides.

During the closings, prosecutor Captain Doug Hatch told the judge Lopez was negligent for not getting Jason Tharp out of the pool on the day he drowned. Hatch said the government is not contending Lopez was a bad swim instructor but says she was negligent on the day Tharp died.

Lieutenant Colonel Scott Jack represents Lopez. He said during his closing that Lopez did nothing wrong.

He asked the judge for a directed verdict of not guilty earlier Wednesday. After hearing arguments from the prosecution and a recess of more than an hour, the judge denied the motion. Griffith said he found there was some evidence in the proceedings in the light most favorable to the government to continue the trial.

Jack then said the defense would rest without calling any witnesses.

Staff Sergeant Nadya Lopez was charged with ignoring signs that recruit Jason Tharp was having trouble and continuing to push him during one on one swim training. Prosecutors said that behavior led to the Sutton, West Virginia native's death.

Tharp was in his fifth week of 12 weeks of training and apparently unhappy as a recruit. He wrote home several times saying he wanted to get out of the Marines.

WIS was visiting the base for a story on base closings in South Carolina when our camera crew caught Tharp being grabbed and shoved by a drill instructor, but a military judge ruled later the tape may not be used as evidence because it did not pertain to directly to Tharp's death and it was difficult to figure out what was happening.

One of the prosecution's 17 witnesses, Staff Sergeant Anthony Davis, testified Wednesday that he ordered Lopez to get recruit Jason Tharp out of the pool after Tharp struggled with his water survival training.

Davis says he gave the order because he felt Tharp had given up, not because he feared for the recruit's safety.

Military prosecutor Captain Doug Hatch said that Staff Sergeant Nadya Lopez was within arm's reach of recruit Jason Tharp when he drowned at the base February 8th, 2005. Hatch says Lopez did nothing while others pulled the Sutton, West Virginia, teenager from the pool.

Nine witnesses testified Tuesday to what they saw right before he drowned. When the witnesses to the drowning were questioned about whether they saw unsafe conditions, everyone said no. That upset Tharp's father, "Troubling to me to think that they could say that she did nothing wrong. I think that's what bothers me the most."

About 20,000 recruits a year pass through the Parris Island Recruit Depot each year for water survival training. The last time a recruit drowned during training at Parris Island was 15 years ago.

Reported by Heather Brown with AP

Updated 8:45pm by Bryce Mursch