By Ellie Kaufman, CNN
A Marine who was found guilty after posting a series of videos on social media criticizing top military leaders’ handling of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan received a sentence of one month forfeiture of $5,000 in pay and a direction to receive a letter of reprimand from a military judge on Friday.
Marine Corps Judge Col. Glen Hines said he was considering giving Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller two months of docked pay but decided to limit it to one month because Scheller spent nine days in pre-trial confinement, known as the brig, at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
The judge handed down the sentence from a military courtroom at Camp Lejeune.
On Thursday, Hines found Scheller guilty after he entered guilty pleas to all five charges he faced — including “contempt towards officials,” “disrespect toward superior commissioned officers” and “failure to obey order or regulation” — after videos of Scheller criticizing military leaders about their handling of the withdrawal went viral.
Scheller was asked to stop posting on social media by senior military leaders and eventually signed what he referred to as a “gag order,” in court, but he continued to post on social media. Scheller was eventually put in pre-trial confinement for nine days after violating the order to stop posting.
Scheller appeared relaxed in the military court room on Friday morning. He was chatting with his attorneys and his parents, who sat on a bench behind him, and drinking coffee out of a disposable cup before court started.
Judge said Scheller ‘appeared to be in pain’
The military judge said he watched all of the videos Scheller posted on social media last night after the first day of the special court martial. The judge said the videos showed someone who “appeared to be in pain” and someone “who appeared to be a bit confused.”
“I sat and watched the videos in their entirety,” Hines said in court on Friday. On Thursday, Hines said he had not watched or read any of the social media posts online. He had only read the more than 600-page investigation the US Marine Corps conducted before charging Scheller.
The judge also went through Scheller’s record the night before sentencing, he said in court.
Hines said Scheller was a Marine for 17 years “who had an outstanding record before this one-month course of conduct.”
Hines said he did not have all of the facts — he did not know if Scheller’s medical records were leaked by the US Marine Corps to the press, as Scheller claimed in court on Thursday, and he did not know if Scheller’s pre-trial confinement was unlawful, because the defense chose not to challenge it, he said.
Hines also remarked on how Scheller’s case has primarily “played out in the public forum,” which is uncommon for a court martial proceeding.
Discharge to be decided
Scheller has yet to receive his characterization of discharge. As a part of the plea deal, he will likely receive either an honorable discharge or a general discharge under honorable conditions. The characterization of discharge will be decided by the secretary of the Navy, the military judge said in court on Thursday.
If the secretary of the Navy decides to give Scheller a discharge below general under honorable conditions, Scheller will then want the characterization of discharge to be forwarded to a board of inquiry, which is made up of Marines who are superior to Scheller. Scheller said he would only ask for a board of inquiry if the secretary of the Navy gives Scheller a discharge outside of the two listed in the plea deal.
Scheller’s characterization of discharge is significant because it will impact whether or not he receives other military benefits after resigning from the Marine Corps. If he receives an honorable discharge, he will be eligible for benefits, but if he receives any discharge less than that, he stands to lose some military benefits.
One of Scheller’s defense attorneys, Tim Parlatore, said Scheller’s behavior over the past month reflects what many veterans are feeling after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in his closing arguments on Thursday.
Scheller “showed the entire country the emotional roller coaster veterans are going through right now,” Parlatore said in court.
“My actions were very public, and at times, very emotional, but I think the emotional roller coaster that I went through, is what every service member in the country goes through,” Scheller said on Thursday. “The only difference is that my experience was very public.”
Parlatore said that he believes Scheller will show resilience after leaving the US Marine Corps, which has been a part of his life for almost two decades.
In his unsworn statement to the court on Thursday, Scheller said he will not “be broken,” by this process.
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