Suspects will not deploy

An Army Ranger accused of stabbing an Olympia man in the back outside a bar in March, and a second Army Ranger charged in the case, will not be deployed overseas as had been requested by their sergeant.

The stabbing victim, Brad Merten, and his mother, Kaye Mayo, both expressed anger last week after hearing that the defendants’ sergeant had requested a trial continuance this month so that both defendants could deploy overseas with their unit. Thurston County Superior Court Judge Christine Pomeroy granted the continuance request.

Merten had said that the military’s decision to let the two soldiers deploy overseas while both have pending felony charges was “a slap in the face.”

But now, the military has reversed its earlier position and has sent The Olympian an e-mail stating the two soldiers will not deploy.

Mayo said Thursday the military’s decision was “great news.” She added that she’s glad the military chose to communicate its decision not to allow the two soldiers to deploy as they await trial.

“It is a decision that I believe is in the best interest of everybody involved, including the military,” Mayo said.

The accused soldiers, Alfred Joseph Sanchez, 20, and John Melville, 22, are members of the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. Sanchez is charged with first-degree assault while armed with a deadly weapon and first-degree burglary in connection with the stabbing of Merten outside Charlie’s Bar & Grill on Fourth Avenue in the early morning of March 28. Melville is charged with first-degree burglary.

Army Ranger spokeswoman Tracy Bailey e-mailed a statement to The Olympian from Fort Benning, Ga., on Wednesday.

“Pfc. Alfred Joseph Sanchez and Spc. John Melville have not and will not deploy in support of the 75th Ranger Regiment’s combat rotation,” the statement reads. “Each will remain in the Fort Lewis area. The 75th Ranger Regiment will continue to cooperate in all judicial proceedings regarding this matter.”

In a phone interview Thursday, Bailey said the Army’s reversal of its earlier decision allowing the two soldiers to deploy “was a leadership decision.” She offered no further details.

Bailey has said she cannot give details about where and when the 75th Ranger Regiment is deploying because it is classified.

During a December court hearing, the two soldiers’ sergeant requested a trial continuance for the two defendants because “these were specialty squads and it was crucial to have them deploy with their unit,” court papers state.

Thurston County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Jon Tunheim did not oppose the continuance request, and it was granted by Pomeroy.

Tunheim has said he did not oppose the continuance request because other witnesses in the case also will be unavailable in the coming months because of deployment. Had the trial not been continued, defense attorneys could have argued for any convictions to be overturned on appeal because of the lack of availability of some witnesses, Tunheim has said.

Sanchez is accused of stabbing Merten in the back “with a large knife” outside Charlie’s on March 28, court papers state. The stabbing occurred after Sanchez and Melville were thrown out of the bar, then returned by breaking down the back door of the establishment, court papers state.

Sanchez is accused of then stealing a knife from Charlie’s kitchen, according to court papers. The alleged attack occurred outside the bar.

“Merten told police that at first he thought he had been punched in the back from behind and did not realize at the time that he had been stabbed,” court papers state. “He turned around and saw the man later identified as Sanchez running away carrying something silver.”

Video surveillance footage from Charlie’s showed that a man fitting Merten’s description of Sanchez broke down the rear door of the bar and grabbed what appeared to be a knife, court papers state.

Merten suffered a punctured lung, a broken rib and a damaged liver, and a chest tube had to be inserted, court papers state. Mayo said the wound to her son’s back was almost six inches long, and he was in the hospital for five days.

Mayo said Thursday that immediately after the stabbing, one of Sanchez’s friends, believed to be an Army Ranger, administered emergency first-aid to her son. “He said ‘you need to lay down and you need to listen to me or you’re going to die,’” Mayo said, recounting what the Ranger told Merten. “It’s possible (the soldier’s first-aid) made a difference.” She said the soldier applied pressure to her son’s wound to try to stop the bleeding. She said Merten lost a great deal of blood after the stabbing, and doctors at the hospital considered giving him a transfusion.

Mayo reiterated Thursday that she respects the military. She said a nephew is in the Navy and a cousin is overseas in the Air Force.

“I’m not anti-Army,” she said.

On the night of her son’s stabbing, Mayo said Merten was at Charlie’s with a group that included a member of the Air Force who became involved in a discussion with the Rangers. That discussion led to some kind of ill-will on the part of the Rangers toward her son’s group.

She said her son was not involved in that dispute. Later, after the Rangers were thrown out of Charlie’s, her son’s group was attacked by the group of Rangers outside the bar, Mayo said.

Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5465

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