Lawyers for Justin Boyle, a Rocky Point soldier convicted in October of involuntary manslaughter, have persuaded Boyle's Fort Bragg commander to investigate an allegation of jury misconduct.
Col. Johnny Johnston, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division's rear detachment at the base in North Carolina, granted the hearing request Friday, his spokesman, Maj. Brian Fickel, said. The unit had received a petition from Boyle's lawyers asking for a post-trial hearing on the alleged misconduct.
"The convening authority wants to afford every opportunity to the defense and the soldier," Fickel said.
Boyle is serving a two-year prison sentence at Fort Sill, Okla., after which he is to be kicked out of the Army with a bad-conduct discharge.
Boyle's family learned of the decision from the office of Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), which had made several inquiries regarding the status of Boyle's petition for the post-trial inquiry.
Fran Boyle began pressing for the inquiry after receiving an e-mail from a colleague of her son. The soldier's e-mail said a juror told him that other jurors had ignored the judge's instructions and had come to the trial "with their own agenda."
In a 6-3 split permitted under military law, the jury found Boyle guilty of choking to death Pfc. Luke Brown, of Fredericksburg, Va., outside a bar near the base while Boyle and several other soldiers tried to get him to return to base.
Boyle had told Army investigators he was only trying to subdue the 250-pound soldier, who others testified had become violent after consuming more than a half bottle of vodka and several energy drinks.
During the trial soldiers testified that the Army teaches how to choke someone into submission and that soldiers are warned during safety briefings never to leave intoxicated buddies behind after a night of drinking.
Post-trial hearings are rare following court martial convictions, said Michelle Lindo McCluer, director of the National Institute of Military Justice, a Washington, D.C., think tank.
McCluer said the military sometimes grants them to explore whether jurors were improperly exposed to prejudicial information or influence. But she said because jury deliberations are mostly beyond challenge, winning a new trial based on allegations of jury misconduct can be difficult.
"To have something come up that you would reconvene the court is fairly rare," McCluer said. "The judge may feel the allegations are serious enough to have this hearing."
Fran Boyle said she hopes the hearing will result in a new trial.
"I'm excited that this hearing is going to happen," she said. "I had a fear that this was going to take years."