Coast Guard seaman headed to court martial over Alaska death

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The U.S. Coast Guard said Friday a seaman will face a court martial on murder and other charges in the death of a fellow seaman during a night of drinking in Alaska.

Ethan Tucker is charged with the January death of 19-year-old Seaman Ethan Kelch of Virginia Beach, Virginia, Military prosecutors allege the 21-year-old Tucker, of Ludington, Michigan, beat Kelch and left him in frigid water, where he drowned.

At the time, both were serving on a cutter based in Kodiak, Alaska.

Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Brickey said the court martial is expected to take place in 2020.

Along with murder, the charges against Tucker include involuntary manslaughter and making a false official statement.

The decision on a court martial came about a month after Tucker was released from a San Diego brig after an admiral overseeing his prosecution ordered a new hearing that took place earlier this month.

The Coast Guard said the court martial decision was made Dec. 23 after a review of the hearing report. Tucker remains restricted to a base in Alameda.

Tucker’s attorney, Navy Cmdr. Justin Henderson, said he is confident his client will be vindicated.

A search was launched for Kelch when he failed to return Jan. 26 from liberty. He was found unresponsive the next day along shore and pronounced dead at a clinic.

During an October hearing, a lawyer for Tucker said a bystander took video that night showing Tucker’s efforts to get Kelch out of the water.

Henderson has said the videos also show Kelch had repeatedly tried to go into the water.

Soon after the October hearing, a military official overseeing the case sent the charges back to prosecutors for amendments that included the deleting of statements that Tucker had placed Kelch in the water.

The charging document still states that Tucker showed a wanton disregard for human life when he caused blunt force trauma to Kelch’s head and left him in water. The charges also say Tucker lied when he said he injured his hand by punching a steel bulkhead.

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