Marines Under Investigation After Autistic Man Allowed to Enlist

Court documents say Joshua Fry was put through boot camp despite diagnosis.

ByABC News
July 14, 2009, 12:28 PM

July 17, 2009— -- Joshua Fry's career as a Marine never should have been.

Now his recruiter and other military personnel who pushed the autistic 20-year-old through boot camp could face criminal charges.

Fry, who has a history of being abused and neglected and has a criminal record, is sitting in a cell at Camp Pendleton on disciplinary charges as the military investigates why a Marine recruiter picked Fry up from a California group home for the mentally disabled and drove him to a recruitment center to sign him up.

"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, " a high-ranking Marine based at the Pentagon told

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 Joshua Fry, who will face court marial on July 20 on charges of possessing child pornography and unauthorized absences, highlights a disconcerting trend of the military accepting candidates that never would have been considered a few years earlier as the forces struggle to supply the manpower for the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"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."

U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., a 13-year member of the Military Personnel Subcommittee, told that she had heard of the Fry case and that it might be worth a House investigation.

"I'd say that was a pretty desperate recruiter," she said.

Sanchez said it's typically the Army, not the Marines, that have had significant problems meeting beits recruiting numbers since about two years after the wars began. But now, as the Army begins its pullout in Iraq, more Marines are being called to quell rising tensons in Afghanistan.

"We certainly have put a closer look on the recruiting tactics of the recruiters during this time," Sanchez said.

As the wars drag on, Asch agreed, more soldiers, sailors and Marines are being admitted into the military service with medical and character flaws that can run the gamut from disqualifying surgeries to felonies.

"It's harder to make missions and quality has declined," Asch said.

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

Both Sanchez and Asch said the recession has actually played a helpful role in the business of recruiting, attracting well-educated yet unemployed men and women to the military.

But then the stories come in, Sanchez said, about how recruiters have been known to tell potential enlistees who have failed a drug test to stay clean for a few days and try again.

"We've seen more of a drug problem in our military," she said.

But the story of Fry's enlistment, she 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.