Attorneys for a Joint Base Lewis-McChord infantryman began the first day of his court-martial Monday by admitting their client stabbed and killed a fellow soldier in a drunken encounter in Lakewood a year and a half ago.
Six witnesses saw Pvt. Jeremiah Hill, 24, knife Spc. Tevin Geike, 20, in the heart in the early hours of Oct. 5, 2013.
“This is not a whodunit,” said Army prosecutor Capt. Pawel Binczyk. “You will hear overwhelming evidence that Pvt. Hill stabbed and killed Spc. Geike.”
Instead, Hill’s attorneys are fighting to spare him the mandatory minimum life sentence that a murder conviction carries under military law by arguing that Hill did not intend to kill Geike when their two groups of friends collided on Pacific Highway South.
Never miss a local story.
Hill’s lawyers contend that the soldier drunkenly perceived a threat and tried to knock a knife out of Geike’s hands. That maneuver failed, and Hill then plunged a knife deep into Geike’s chest, one of his attorneys said. He said the altercation “went down in 25 seconds.”
“That night was a series of tragedies that ended with the death of a young man, but what happened that night was not murder,” said defense attorney Capt. Benjamin Accinelli.
The slaying allegedly occurred when Hill and four fellow soldiers encircled Geike and two friends. Both groups had been out partying and drinking that night, according to testimony at a pretrial hearing. Hill’s group was in a car; Geike’s was on foot returning to a hotel they had rented for a gathering.
The two groups reportedly realized all eight of them were soldiers assigned to JBLM and started to go their separate ways. That’s when Hill allegedly grabbed Geike from the back, stabbed him and ran to a car with his friends.
Hill’s friends took steps to cover up the killing, court records say. One was charged with trying to clean up blood Hill brought into the car. Another pleaded guilty to tossing Hill’s knife into the woods.
Hill was arrested by Lakewood police after he made suspicious comments to an Army medic who was helping treat a gash in Hill’s hand, according to testimony at Hill’s pretrial hearing.
In addition to murder, Hill faces charges of manslaughter and attempting to obstruct an Army investigation.
He did not speak in court Monday. Defense attorney Capt. Austin Fenwick entered a not-guilty plea on Hill’s behalf. Hill’s fate is in the hands of six officers who were selected for his jury panel.
Relatives of both Hill and Geike attended the first day of the court-martial. Both sides cried frequently.
Binczyk wore gloves as he delivered an opening statement during which he held up the alleged murder weapon and showed photos of Geike’s body lying on the street.
He also displayed the stained white undershirt Geike wore the night of his death. The sight of it sent two of Geike’s loved ones out of the courtroom sobbing.
Binczyk repeatedly described Hill as callous in his remarks to other soldiers. He allegedly said he did not care that he had killed a man when he was confronted by one of the soldiers with him the night of the killing.
Hill joined the Army in early 2013 and was assigned to JBLM’s 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division as his first military assignment. Geike was nearing the end of an enlistment in JBLM’s 16th Combat Aviation Brigade.
Pierce County prosecutors had been handling the case until December, when the Army and the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office agreed to move the proceedings to a military venue.
The court-martial is expected to finish by the end of this week.