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For week ended December 19, 1999 Posted 24 Feb 2001
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Summarized by Kent Larsen

Probe of Utah Marine's Death Leaves Unanswered Questions
Salt Lake Tribune (Gannett) 19Dec99 P2
Gannett News Service

CEDAR CITY, UTAH -- The death of Mormon US Marine Pfc. James Gardner in 1991 led his family to question the work of Navy investigators in the case and caused the family additional grief. Odd things about his death, ruled a suicide, have lead his mother, Arlene Ball, to pursue the issue, looking for help from congressional investigators and the Defense Department's Inspector General.

One of the unresolved issues in the case was Gardner's complaint that he was being harassed because he was Mormon. Gardner had reported the abuse to family and friends, but Ball says investigators basically ignored the reports.

Probably the oddest thing about the case is that the safety was in the on position on the pistol he used. Investigators believe that Gardner switched the safety back on after he shot himself as a reflex. Ball also notes that the owner of the gun, one of Gardner's roommates, had three other friends die in the two years before Gardner's death; one from suicide, another in a shooting accident and the third in a mysterious traffic accident.

Add this to evidence that Gardner planned to continue his life, and Ball becomes suspicious about the investigation. "I was open with the military, and I think that worked against me," Ball told the Gannett News Service. "I think they felt, 'Well, the mom's taking the blame, so we don't have to investigate.' I took more responsibility than I should have."

In the end, Ball was finally convinced that her son did commit suicide by a Navy 'blood spatter' study, "It finally made sense to me. There would be a break in the pattern had there been another person in the room." But that didn't solve Ball's exasperation with investigators. She wrote to congressional investigators, saying that the Navy investigators "demean the person's character by guesswork -- this is a blame-the-victim mentality that reflects the laziness and lack of training in the military investigative bodies."


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