The trial of one Marine accused of stabbing another in an altercation in D.C.'s Barracks Row neighborhood last April could be delayed a week, after the suspect's defense attorney today advised the court he may not be ready to start trial March 4. The defense also advised that its chief expert witness's schedule could also delay the start of the trial.
Michael Poth, no longer a Marine, has been charged with second-degree murder for allegedly threatening and stabbing 23-year-old Philip Bushong, of Camp Lejune, N.C., April 21, 2012, in the 700 block of 8th Street SE, after a confrontation in which Poth uttered homophobic slurs at Bushong and a companion.
David Benowitz, Poth's lawyer, told D.C. Superior Court Judge Russell Canan today that he would not be able to proceed as planned due to issues with his hand following surgery.
Benowitz also raised the issue of the availability of an expert witness that he hopes will bolster Poth's defense.
Canan told Benowitz he was ''hard-pressed'' to continue the case, given how long Poth, of Southeast D.C., has been awaiting trial. After several exchanges with Benowitz and Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Liebman, an alternative trial start date was set for March 11. Canan will decide at a Feb. 27 hearing whether the March 4 start stands or to postpone to March 11.
Asked by Canan how many witnesses the prosecution plans to call, Liebman answered 15 to 20, including six Marines who interacted with Poth on the night of the stabbing, none of whom are still stationed at the Southeast D.C. Marine Barracks – with one being considered a ''crucial witness'' and facing possible overseas deployment in the near future.
Benowitz said he planned to call three to six witnesses to testify for the defense. One witness, Benowitz told the court, may offer testimony on the wounds that killed Bushong and similarities to self-defense military training. Benowitz continued, telling the court that Poth's training in self-defense kicked in when his client was defending himself from a potential punch by Bushong. He pointed to statements that Poth allegedly made following the incident, including ''Marines control me and my brain,'' and ''Marines train me to kill,'' as evidence that it was Poth's military training that influenced his reactions during the altercation with Bushong.
Liebman characterized that argument as ''preposterous,'' pointing out that Poth never saw combat, had never been deployed outside of the United States, and that 8th Street SE is not the same kind of environment that exists in a war zone.
Liebman also advised Canan that a plea offer remains valid until Feb. 27. Under the terms of that deal, Poth would plead guilty to second-degree murder while armed, and serve a maximum of 18, minimum of 12, years in prison. Poth rejected that offer when it was first made, in September.
Friday's wrangling followed motions submitted in November asking to suppress evidence and statements obtained in the hours after Poth's arrest.
According to charging documents, eyewitness testimony, and video surveillance cameras around the Barracks Row neighborhood, Poth was seen acting erratically and brandishing an object believed to be a knife prior to the incident. Poth was seen passing by a bar at which Bushong, who was straight, was embracing his companion, later revealed at a preliminary hearing to be a gay man. Poth allegedly passed by the bar again as Bushong and his companion were leaving, and Bushong and Poth exchanged words. Poth allegedly called Bushong a ''faggot'' and threatened to stab him. Witnesses say Bushong grabbed Poth's shoulder and Poth stabbed Bushong directly in the center of his chest. Bushong was pronounced dead later that morning.
Marines who saw Bushong fall to the ground after being stabbed detained Poth until Metropolitan Police Department officers arrived on scene. The Marines told police they had observed a bloody knife clipped to Poth's pants pocket. Poth later tested positive for artificial marijuana, also known as ''spice.''