The trial of a Marine accused of killing a fellow Marine following an incident where he allegedly called the victim a ''faggot'' will move forward after a D.C. Superior Court judge this morning found probable cause that the defendant stabbed the victim.
Specifically, Judge Ronna L. Beck found there was probable cause that Michael Poth, 20, of Southeast Washington, stabbed 23-year-old Philip Bushong, of Camp Lejeune, N.C., in the early morning hours of April 21 following a confrontation between the two in the 700 block of 8th Street SE, a stretch known as Barracks Row for housing the Marines Barracks. Poth faces a charge of second-degree murder while armed.
Following arguments by the government and Poth's defense lawyer at his preliminary status hearing, Beck ordered Poth held without bond and scheduled him for a felony status hearing before Judge William Jackson on July 13.
In her ruling, Beck said the facts of the case, the circumstances surrounding it – including Poth's reported erratic behavior in the hours prior to the crime and his expected ''other than honorable'' military discharge – and the recommendation of pretrial services, which makes release recommendations for defendants standing trial, led her to believe there were ''no conditions that would ensure the safety of the community.''
According to charging documents, witnesses told police that they saw Poth cross paths with Bushong and a companion on 8th Street SE as the two were leaving a local restaurant and bar. Witnesses say Poth exchanged words with Bushong, and that Bushong and his companion then began following Poth.
The charging documents also contain an account from a Marine who was on post at the intersection of 8th and G Streets during the incident, according to whom Poth then said, ''I'm going to stab you'' to Bushong. Then, the Marine witness says, Bushong grabbed Poth's shoulder and Poth stabbed Bushong with a knife, causing Bushong to fall to the ground. The Marine on duty then called for two other Marines to detain Poth. One of those Marines told police Poth had a bloody knife clipped to his pants pocket.
The charging documents also include an account from a witness who told police she had seen a short, young, white male with short blond hair, blue jeans and tattoos on his arm walking in the area around Barracks Row prior to the incident. The woman said she heard the man, who matches Poth's description, say, ''I'm going to stab somebody or cut their lungs out; they are fucking with the wrong person.''
A Metropolitan Police Department officer who arrived on scene shortly after the stabbing told investigators that, while detained, Poth was uttering spontaneous statements, such as, ''Call me boots and the fight started,'' ''Marines control me and my brain,'' ''You start with me and I'm going to defend myself,'' ''He was talking shit, so I stabbed him,'' and, ''He punched me in the face, so I stabbed him.'' After overhearing a radio transmission about Bushong being transported to Washington MedStar Hospital, Poth allegedly told the responding officer, ''Good, I hope he dies.''
At the preliminary hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Liebman showed footage from security cameras from businesses surrounding the crime scene that, at first glance, appeared to align with the information contained in the charging documents. Footage from the restaurant and bar where Bushong and his companion had been earlier that night of the incident showed the two men embracing and Poth, who is underage, walking around outside of the restaurant.
Video surveillance from about 15 minutes prior to the stabbing also appeared to show Poth walking backward, as if he were being confronted. Footage from another camera showed Bushong and his companion pointing and looking in the direction where Poth was headed. Additional footage from a third camera showed Poth acting erratically and brandishing an object that may have been a knife.
Detective Dwayne Partman of MPD's Homicide Unit told that court that he questioned witnesses of the incident, who told him that Poth had called Bushong a ''faggot.''
Under questioning by David Benowitz, Poth's defense attorney, Partman testified that Poth told him Bushong had earlier called him ''boots,'' a term which Marines generally consider derogatory. As Partman questioned Poth after the incident, Poth claimed Bushong had punched him, though MPD officers saw no apparent wounds on Poth.
Benowitz argued there was not sufficient evidence to charge Poth with second-degree murder. Surveillance footage, he said, seemed to show Poth defending himself against the larger and taller Bushong. Benwoitz maintained that Bushong initiated the confrontation, suggesting that, at most, Poth should face manslaughter charges. Benowitz also argued that Poth was an appropriate candidate for a halfway house while he awaits trial.
Liebman countered by arguing that Poth could have asked nearby armed Marines for help if he thought he was being threatened. Liebman raised Poth's ''other than honorable'' discharge from the military, which Liebman said stemmed from behavioral problems, drinking while underage, and testing positive for ''spice,'' a form of artificial marijuana.
Liebman also argued that Bushong's killing was a hate crime, in that Poth had witnessed the close interactions between the victim and his companion on the night he was killed.