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Families Of Soliders Want Suicide Cases Reopened

May 17, 1993 GMT

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ The families of 14 servicemen whose deaths were ruled suicide or accidentally self-inflicted believe their sons were murdered and want the cases reopened.

Some of the families contend their sons died after witnessing drug sales or use by other soldiers and sailors, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Sunday. Others say the deaths came after their sons complained of lax conditions or thefts aboard ships or on bases.

″My son did not take his own life,″ said Donnie Louthain, whose son, Petty Officer Kenneth Louthain, 23, was found dead Oct. 3 aboard the USS Virginia. ″Instead of investigating his death properly, the Navy set out from the start to prove a suicide theory.″

Jim Langford of Elk Creek, Calif., wonders how his son, Army Spec. 4 Chad Langford, 20, shot himself in the head at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala., in March 1992, as the Army ruled. The soldier had one hand handcuffed and someone else’s palm print was on the weapon, the father said.

Langford said his son, an MP, had told him he was involved in an undercover drug investigation and that drug dealers would kill him if they found out.

Pentagon officials said they could not comment on the accusations because it would involve personal details of the dead men and their families.

Several relatives of the dead servicemen last week privately told their stories to staff members of an oversight subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee. The panel is looking into military investigative agencies in the wake of the Navy’s Tailhook sex scandal.

The Inquirer interviewed 14 families, 11 of whom said the deaths’ were investigated by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, a civilian-run agency known as NIS.

The NIS has been found by outside agencies to have bungled recent investigations, including the Tailhook scandal and the beating death of a gay sailor last year, the newspaper reported.

The families accuse the military of lying to them, covering up evidence, losing blood samples or other evidence, and failing to interview key witnesses or perform basic forensic tests.

They say the military ruled the deaths suicides to try to avoid embarrassing allegations.

So far this year, 22 suicides have been reported by the Marine Corps, compared to 26 for all of 1992. The Army reported 75 suicides last year, the Navy 51 and the Air Force 58.

Pentagon officials declined to comment on reasons for the high numbers of suicides.