Family of Decapitated Soldier to Sue Army over Unsolved Homicide

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Spc. Enrique Roman-Martinez memorial ceremony.
Friends of Spc. Enrique Roman-Martinez sit silently during his memorial ceremony at The All American Chapel on Fort Bragg, N.C., August 13, 2020. (U.S. Army Photo by Master Sgt. Alexander Burnett)

The family of a soldier whose head washed ashore off the coast of North Carolina will file a civil suit against the Army for how it handled the investigation into his death, the family's lawyer told Military.com on Sunday.

In May 2020, Spc. Enrique Roman-Martinez, 21, went camping in the Outer Banks area with seven other soldiers. A member of the group reported him missing on May 23 and, six days later, Roman-Martinez's head was found just a few miles away from the soldiers' campsite.

No suspect has been named in the case, and the manner in which the Fort Bragg human resources specialist died is unknown.

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More than two years after Roman-Martinez's death, his family wants answers about the fruitless Army investigation and is hoping the lawsuit will unearth more information about what happened.

"I want the truth," Griselda Martinez, Roman-Martinez's sister, told Military.com on Monday. "I want more effort for my brother. … I want justice for my family. … He was in the safest place in the whole world, and my brother was murdered on American land serving as a member of the military.

"This closure is everything to me," she added. "It's for my mom, for my family, my brother's friends -- the people that touched his life -- it's for all of us."

While the Army has been investigating the death -- which has been designated as a cold case -- as a homicide, officials have previously said that the seven key witnesses who went camping with Roman-Martinez, all current or formerly junior enlisted soldiers, are not suspects in his death. The last of those witnesses face potential dismissals from the military next month on nonviolent charges related to the trip.

It is unclear exactly when the civil suit will launch, though Dustin Collier, a California-based lawyer representing the family, told Military.com that it will be this year. He also said the family plans to use the Federal Tort Claims Act, a legal tool that allows individuals to sue the federal government. The law gives the Army six months to reach a settlement, before the lawsuit can proceed.

Collier said he'd "be stunned if they took us up on that opportunity" for a settlement, and he anticipates the lawsuit moving ahead.

"There will be some period of discovery where hopefully we can get answers to questions the Army has been unwilling or unable to answer for us to date, including hopefully obtaining unredacted copies of records," he said.

There are several key questions the family hopes to uncover, according to Collier, including questions about how quickly the Army Criminal Investigation Division, or CID, probe commenced after Roman-Martinez was reported missing.

A redacted CID report shared by Collier with Military.com shows that Army special agents weren't notified until nearly two days after Roman-Martinez was reported missing. Collier also said that FBI dive teams weren't deployed until months after the soldier's remains were found, something he said should have been done sooner.

Griselda Martinez found many aspects of the case "odd," she said, including that her brother's glasses were found at the campsite, ones that he needed to see despite reportedly going missing in the middle of the night.

"It would be inappropriate for us to comment at this time on any potential litigation, but I can tell you that the Department of the Army Criminal Investigation Division's investigation into the death of SPC Roman-Martinez remains open and ongoing," Jeffrey Castro, a CID spokesman, told Military.com. "CID special agents are committed to fully investigating the facts and circumstances surrounding his death."

Collier said that he is also concerned with the lack of transparency the Army gave him and the family in connection to the case.

"It's one of the reasons that we're extremely upset with the Army," Collier said, "the fact that we were getting different messages at different points in time, not always consistent with what they're telling the public."

In August 2021, the CID alluded to Roman-Martinez's death being caused by a boat propeller, a statement that Collier said bewildered him and the family.

"Please understand that homicide basically means that someone's death was caused by someone else," said CID Special Agent Steve Chancellor in a press release that touted the unit's efforts, along with over half a dozen other agencies, to solve the case. "That means that the death could have been intentional or it could have been unintentional -- for example in this case, someone running over someone with a boat while the person was in the water, etc."

Army officials have not publicly raised the boat theory, one that Collier said was "hard to imagine," again.

Collier also said that he and the family found out from a January 2021 Rolling Stone article that the Army was leveling non-violent charges -- drug use, making false statements, and conspiracy counts -- against the key witnesses who had been camping with Roman-Martinez.

"[The Army] told us in August when the CID report came out that the case was being closed and no charges were being filed against anybody, which turned out not to be true," Collier said. "They were filing charges the very next month, and nobody bothered to tell us that."

The announcement of the planned civil suit comes as the last of the seven soldiers who accompanied Roman-Martinez are scheduled for hearings to conclude courts-martial on nonviolent charges related to the trip, effectively ending the military's control of the case's key witnesses.

Four of the soldiers -- Sgt. Samuel Moore, Spc. Alex Becerra, Spc. Joshua Curry, and Spc. Benjamin Sibley -- who accompanied Roman-Martinez to the Outer Banks have already faced courts-martial for non-violent charges.

As of January, Moore, Becerra, and Curry had pleaded guilty to various conspiracy and false statement charges, received reductions in rank, and were dismissed from the Army, according to Lt. Col. Anthony Clas, a spokesperson for the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg.

Sibley was convicted, "contrary to his pleas," according to Clas, of conspiracy to commit a false statement and making a false statement and was reduced in rank. He is no longer serving in the Army. Becerra was convicted of three counts of disobeying a superior officer and one count of wrongful use of a controlled substance.

Spc. Juan Avila faces charges for conspiracy to provide a false statement and providing a false statement and will have his summary court-martial at the end of the month. Pfc. Samad Landrum and Pvt. Annamarie Cochell are charged with the same counts, as well as wrongful use of LSD, a psychoactive drug. Their courts-martial are scheduled for next month, according to Clas.

The CID told Military.com that there is an active reward of up to $50,000 for leads on the case. They encouraged the public to contact CID at 910-396-8777 or anonymously to its website.

Editor's Note: This article was updated with comment from the Army. Military.com attempted to obtain CID comment Monday before publication, but did not use the correct contact information.

-- Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at drew.lawrence@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @df_lawrence.

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