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SAN DIEGO (AP) — The defense team of a Marine accused in a fatal stabbing on a California Marine Corps base argued Thursday that the death was a tragic accident and the two friends were playing around with a knife.

Pfc. Raymond W. Begay faces charges of murder and obstruction of justice in the death of 18-year-old Pfc. Ethan Barclay-Weberpal, who died the morning of Jan. 16 after being stabbed while sitting in formation with a platoon of Marines at the School of Infantry at Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego.

Several troops testifying for the defense said the death was an accident at a preliminary hearing Thursday at Camp Pendleton, according to the Orange County Register. The hearing — known as an Article 32 in the Uniform Code of Military Justice — allows the defense and prosecution to introduce evidence and arguments. Both sides must submit written arguments as well. The convening authority will then determine what level of court martial is ordered.

Begay immediately admitted to training instructors that he stabbed Barclay-Weberpal, witnesses testified. Defense attorneys say Begay should be charged with involuntary manslaughter not murder.

“This was just dumb kids doing dumb things,” testified defense witness Pfc. Rhett Glubka. “I don’t think he (Begay) thought about what could have happened.”

The family of Barclay-Weberpal, of Janesville, Wisconsin, listened via teleconference.

Lance Cpl. Gavin Shorter testified that he was behind Begay when the stabbing occurred. “No one thought he was seriously wounded,” Shorter said. “There was no scream or anything.”

Shorter testified that he saw Begay reach over Barclay-Weberpal’s right shoulder and place the knife into the left side of his chest but “I don’t believe it was intentional, sir,” he told Maj. Nelson Candelario, one of three members of Begay’s defense team. “There was no anger, no argument, no conflict. We were all good friends.”

He said the other Marines saw blood coming from Barclay-Weberpal’s chest and tried to tug at his shirt to cover it up, but “we didn’t think it was fatal and we didn’t want to get into trouble. After we got out of formation, we were going to help him.”

Shorter said Begay was known to play with knives and had made stabbing motions at inanimate objects such as mattresses and lockers. He described Begay as a level-headed kid — a “solid Marine.” He also said Begay appeared pale and scared and “just shook-up” after the incident.

Shorter testified that Begay was playing around with a knife before he stabbed Barclay-Weberpal.

Maj. Tanzania Jaysura, lead trial prosecutor, said she had testimony from at least three other Marines who said Begay was known to have threatened to stab other Marines and that some had told him to stop because it made them uncomfortable. She said she also had testimony showing Begay left the bleacher area after the stabbing to wash blood from his knife.

“The knife was not the type of knife that retracts and opens to the front and witnesses will say they saw him play with the knife before the stabbing and that words were exchanged and that he intentionally put the knife into Barclay-Weberpal’s left chest, into his heart,” Jaysura said.

She said the left ventricle of his heart was punctured with only one stab wound.

“It was a deep puncture wound,” she said. “Rather than getting help, he went to put the knife away — that’s where we believe we have obstruction of justice.”


Information from: The Orange County Register,