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A mother
shows mercy

Family wants leniency for Marines charged in son’s accidental death

By Jay Reeves
Associated Press Writer

CULLMAN — Glenda Fales didn’t understand the Marines’ explanation of her son’s death in Iraq. How could the former football star, well-liked and quiet, wind up dead in his bunk, an M-16 slug through the back of his head?

Lance Cpl. Adam R. Fales, 21, had survived the brutal streets of Fallujah working as an MP. Now his family was told that he had been shot to death while sleeping, and it was unclear if the shooter was an insurgent or a fellow Marine.

“We could only think, ‘Who would do this to him?’ ” Fales said.

Search for justice

Fales wanted justice. She still does, but now she knows her son’s killing on Dec. 16, 2005, was not a brutal murder but a horrible accident that also wrecked the lives of two fellow Marines, who await court-martial this month. Adam Fales’ mom, long past wanting an eye for an eye, supports mercy for the two under a plea agreement.

“I want them to be able to go on with their lives, to follow through with their plans,” said Fales, sitting at a table with her husband, Joe at a store, they recently opened in Cullman, about 50 miles north of Birmingham.

Two 21-year-old Marine reservists from a Pennsylvania-based outfit, Lance Cpls. Michael C. Fulcher and Sean P. Riley, are accused in Fales’ death. The three were friends, and Fales spent his final hours watching a “Star Wars” movie with them, according to his mother, and the M-16 that discharged was not supposed to be loaded.

“We can’t bring Adam back. Why ruin two more lives?” she said.

Facing manslaughter

Fulcher is charged with involuntary manslaughter and negligent discharge of a weapon, according to 2nd Lt. Philip W. Klay, a spokesman for the 2nd Marine Logistics Group at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Riley is accused of involuntary manslaughter and dereliction of duty.

Under the plea deal that Fales’ supports, the two would be given a few months in the brig and honorable discharges, rather than possible sentences of 10 years imprisonment and dishonorable discharges.

Klay declined comment on any possible plea agreement, and military attorneys for Fulcher and Riley did not respond to messages seeking comment. But, Klay said, a court in any military case must decide whether to accept a plea agreement after hearing evidence at a court martial. A court martial for Fulcher will be held on Nov. 14 at Camp Lejeune, and Riley’s is scheduled for the next day at the North Carolina base.

“Whether or not there is a plea agreement does not affect the conduct of the court,” said Klay.

Son was coming home

Fales, who had two brothers, including one who remains a Marine, died just two months before he was scheduled to leave Iraq. With plans to get married this fall, he was part of a group helping to prepare for Iraqi elections. At first, Fales said, the Marines told the family he was shot to death while sleeping in his bunk, raising suspicions of a murder and sparking a feverish search for facts. Within days relatives learned the shooting was an accident, but they groped for answers to lingering questions for weeks afterward.

Documents show the military classified Fales’ death as a homicide caused by a mishandled weapon, but Fales said it wasn’t until a hearing in August that she got the full story of what had happened:

Fales was in a trailer shared by Riley and Fulcher, and all three were getting ready to go back out after watching a movie. Fulcher picked up Riley’s weapon off a bed and it fired, striking Fales in the back of the head.

The bullet shouldn’t have been in Riley’s M-16, but Fales said an investigation found that neither Riley nor a sergeant properly checked the weapon to make sure the chamber was empty after he returned from patrol that day.

For their actions, each man agreed to plead guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter, Fales said. While they each could have gotten 10 years, Fulcher agreed to a deal giving him six months in custody, and Riley took an agreement giving him five months to serve.

Most importantly for Fales, Fulcher and Riley will each be able to get an honorable discharge. meaning their records won’t be tainted with the stain of a dishonorable separation from the military.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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