Autistic Marine Court Martialed and Given Bad Conduct Discharge

Spotlight now turns on how Pvt. Joshua Fry was recruited into Marines.

ByABC News
July 20, 2009, 6:16 PM

July 20, 2009— -- A Marine whose recruitment is under investigation because he is autistic was sentenced to four years in prison at his court martial Monday, but in a plea deal he will be released for time already served and receive a bad conduct discharge.

Pvt. Joshua Fry, 21, has been confined since July 2008 when he was found to have child pornography on his cell phone and computer despite being previously warned by his Marine commanders that it was forbidden. Fry also pleaded guilty to disciplinary charges, including unauthorized leave.

Under the terms of the plea deal, Fry was sentenced to four years and a bad conduct discharge, according to Marine Lt. Col. Sean Gibson. The sentence was reduced to 12 months and Fry received credit for the 359 days already served since his arrest, Gibson said.

The conclusion of Fry's court martial turns the attention to suggestions by Fry's family and members of Congress that he should never have been recruited into the elite force that bills itself as "The Few. The Proud. The Marines."

According to a pre-trial motion filed by Fry's attorney, Marine recruiter Gunnery Sgt. Matthew Teson drove to a group home for the mentally disabled to pick up Fry and sign him up. The enlistment occurred despite a warning from Fry's legal guardian and grandmother that he was autistic, that he was not Marine material, and he could not sign a contract without her permission.

The lawyer's motion claims that Teson urged Fry to not mention that fact on his application.

Fry's enlistment was cited by experts as an indication that some recruiters are having a harder time filling their ranks in the face of extended wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., a 13-year member of the Military Personnel Subcommitteeand, told that Fry's recruitment might be worth a committee investigation.

A high-ranking Marine based at the Pentagon indicated to last week that an internal probe was likely.

"An investigation into the circumstances of Private Fry's accession in the Corps, could lead to subsequent administrative or criminal proceedings against those directly involved, if warranted," the officer said.

The Marine, who is familiar with the Fry case, requested not to be identified, but said the Marines are prepared to hold accountable anyone who may have acted improperly during Fry's time with the military.

"The American people rightfully expect a lot of their Marine Corps," he said. "If there is a perception that something is afoul, we will aggressively root out the truth."

Experts say the case of Fry highlights a disconcerting trend of the military accepting candidates that never would have been considered a few years earlier.

"It's hard work being a recruiter anyway," said Beth Asch, a senior economist at Rand Corporation, the Santa Monica, Calif.-based non-profit think tank. "And when you're not a successful one, it's an issue."

Asch, who is working on a study relating to recruiter impropriety and fraudulent enlistment, said failure to meet recruiting quotas, called "goals" or "missions" by the military, can result in recruiters working weekends and late hours and coming under the glare of a disapproving supervisor which, in the military, can be "demoralizing."

If recruiters miss a quota, she said, "life sucks."

Sanchez said her subcommittee has recommended stricter guidelines for the recruiters and set aside funds for bigger incentive bonuses to attract higher quality recruits.

But the story of Fry's enlistment, Sanchez said, was unlike anything she's heard.

Fry was born in 1988 to a crack addicted father and a mother on heroin according to his lawyer's 35-page court motion to dismiss the charges, which was later rejected. The document details a downtrodden life that included physical and possible sexual abuse all while Fry slipped further behind in his developmental progress.

By the age of 3, according to the motion, he tested as having an IQ of 70 and was found to be anti-social and self-abusive. He was diagnosed with autism when he was 3 and then again as a teenager.