"One shouldn't judge anyone until he has walked a mile in his shoes," Laura Pace, 34, of Mattituck, told Newsday in an interview. "Basically I just want to say he is innocent until proven guilty. He's volunteered to serve his country. My family and myself are 100 percent behind him."
Marine Corps officials on Sept. 21 charged Deptola and Marine Staff Sgt. Joseph W. Chamblin in connection with a July 27, 2011, incident during which Marines urinated on the corpses of dead Taliban fighters. Pace said her brother was a 2003 Southold High School graduate. He and Chamblin are based at Camp Lejeune, N.C. They now face a court martial.
The incident in Afghanistan sparked a reprisal after a video of the desecration made its way onto YouTube in January. An Afghan soldier shot 15 French soldiers, killing four and seriously wounding eight.
Last October, Deptola returned on leave from Afghanistan, the Suffolk Times, a weekly newspaper in Mattituck, reported. At a welcome home party, Deptola spoke of the stress of war, according to an Oct. 20, 2011, Times article.
"The war over there is pretty much a sniper war," he told the newspaper. "We're getting shot at on a daily basis and we put ourselves in harm's way on purpose."
Deptola said a member of his platoon had been killed and six had been wounded. "We'd go out in the middle of the night and begin observing as soon as the sun went up," he said. "The enemy would be shooting from 1,000 yards away from a 12-inch hole in a wall."
In the Newsday interview, Pace said troops are asked to endure enormous stresses. "They're trained to kill and then they're told to go on with their lives," she said.
Deptola was also charged with failing to supervise subordinates who took part in the desecration, failing to report the incident, wrongfully discharging a recovered enemy machine gun, failing to stop the indiscriminate firing of weapons and wantonly damaging Afghan compounds.
A great aunt of Deptola's, Gladys Deptola, who moved to Syracuse from Port Jefferson Station 11 years ago, said she remembers the Marine from family gatherings as a quiet and polite boy. She said she learned of the charges against her grandnephew in a news account.
"I was a little taken aback by the article, because it didn't seem like him," she said. "But I can't judge him. I wasn't there. And war changes people."