FORT BRAGG, N.C. — Pvt. Danny Chen was so distraught over racial slurs and harsh treatment by his sergeant in Afghanistan that he spoke one day last fall of committing suicide, a fellow soldier testified at the sergeant’s court-martial today.
Less than a week later, Chen, a slight and shy 19-year-old Chinese American, killed himself with a single shot under his chin at a remote base in Afghanistan. Today’s testimony by Pfc. Degan Berhe was the first in three days of hearings to directly link the actions of Sgt. Adam Holcomb to Chen’s Oct. 3 suicide.
“He told me to my face, sir, that he wanted to commit suicide because of the way he was treated,” Berhe told a military prosecutor. “He told me (Holcomb) kept picking on him.”
Holcomb, a strapping 30-year-old sergeant, is accused of hazing and hounding Chen into committing suicide. He is charged with negligent homicide, assault and reckless endangerment, among other counts, and could be sentenced to nearly 18 years in prison if convicted of all charges.
Holcomb is one of eight soldiers who prosecutors say hazed, kicked or tormented Chen in the weeks leading up to his suicide at tiny Combat Outpost Palace in Kandahar province. The others face courts-martial later this year.