7 soldiers last seen with decapitated Fort Bragg paratrooper in 2020 face court martials

FORT BRAGG, N.C. — Seven Fort Bragg soldiers who last saw a colleague alive before his severed head was found along a North Carolina shoreline in 2020 are facing court martials this summer on charges of conspiracy and other alleged crimes.

Army Spc. Enrique Roman-Martinez and his colleagues defied a COVID-19-related lockdown to travel to the Outer Banks for a Memorial Day 2020 weekend trip to Cape Lookout National Seashore. Roman-Martinez, 21, of Chino, California, vanished May 22, and his friends reported him missing about 19 hours later, according to 2020 news reports.

The 82nd Airborne Division paratrooper’s head washed ashore five days later, and an autopsy determined he died of homicidal violence.

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The Fayetteville Observer identified Roman-Martinez’s fellow soldiers as Spcs. Juan Avila, Alex R. Becerra, Joshua L. Curry and Benjamin E. Sibley, along with Pvt. Annamarie L. Cochell, Pfc. Samad A. Landrum and Sgt. Samuel O. Moore. Court dockets reviewed by the newspaper indicate each of the seven is charged with one count of conspiracy and failure to obey a direct order.

The second charge stems from the group’s travel from Fort Bragg to the national park, which is about 200 miles from the Army base. At the time, a travel ban was in place due to the pandemic.

In addition to those charges, Becerra, Cochell and Landrum are charged with using the hallucinogenic drug LSD, the Observer reported. Becerra, who called 911 on May 23, 2020, to report Roman-Martinez missing, is also charged with three counts of disobeying a superior.

Cochell is charged with two counts of disobeying a superior and Curry is charged with a single count of disobeying a superior.

The first charges against the group were filed in January, beginning with Becerra, Cochell and Landrum, according to Army Times. Trial dates for the soldiers vary, beginning on May 31 for Becerra and ending with Cochell’s trial, which is scheduled for Sept. 26 to 29.

The charges against the soldiers are unrelated to the murder of Roman-Martinez, and no one has been charged in his case, the Observer reported. As of August 2021, a reward for credible information about his death stood at $50,000.

A disappearance and grisly death

According to Roman-Martinez’s colleagues, they last saw him alive when they went to bed just after midnight on May 23. The group had made camp at a spot near Mile Marker 46 on South Core Banks, one of the islands that make up the Cape Lookout National Seashore.

Roman-Martinez’s cellphone and wallet were left behind at the campsite, according to Fort Bragg officials. The paratrooper’s sister, Griselda Martinez, said in 2020 that her brother also disappeared without his glasses.

“My brother can’t see without his glasses, so for him to walk out in the middle of the night without his glasses, it’s not likely,” Martinez told KABC. “He can’t see, where would he go?”

A 10-day search for Roman-Martinez took place in the park, with multiple local and federal agencies taking part in ground and aerial searches that covered South Core Banks, Shackleford Banks and the immediate ocean and sound areas surrounding Roman-Martinez’s camp.

“Very few clues have been discovered during the search efforts,” National Park Service officials said at the time. “Depending on the search area and day, team members encountered rainy, windy, and rough sea conditions.”

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Roman-Martinez’s head washed up May 29 on Shackleford Banks Island, according to officials with the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, or Army CID.

An autopsy report indicated there was “evidence of multiple chop injuries of the head,” according to news reports at the time. Roman-Martinez’s jaw was also broken in two places.

“While decapitation is, in and of itself, universally fatal, the remainder of the body in this case was not available for examination, and therefore potential causes of death involving the torso and extremities cannot be excluded,” the report said, according to the News & Observer in Raleigh. “A definitive cause of death cannot be determined, (but) the findings in this case are most consistent with death due to homicide.”

A toxicology report indicated that Roman-Martinez had no drugs in his system when he died.

The slain soldier’s family told the Army Times in 2020 that inconsistencies in the story of what happened when Roman-Martinez vanished had them seeking answers. In his 911 call, Becerra told a dispatcher that the soldiers had been looking for help to find their missing friend.

“When we woke up, he was not here and we’ve been looking for him all day,” Becerra said, according to a recording obtained by the newspaper. “We were trying to find a Park Ranger or their offices, or anything, and so we went all the way to the ferry and found that we needed to dial 911.”

A Cape Lookout National Seashore spokesperson told the paper, however, that Park Rangers had encountered the group the afternoon of May 23 and asked them to move their vehicles, which were parked too close to sand dunes.

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“The Rangers moved on after hearing the group would comply ... (the soldiers) did not make mention to the Rangers at this point that anyone was missing from their group,” spokesman B.G. Horvat wrote in an email. “You would have to ask members of the group why they didn’t report a missing person then.”

Becerra also told the dispatcher they were worried that Roman-Martinez might hurt himself because he had “suicidal tendencies,” the recording showed. Martinez told the Army Times that was not true of her brother.

“If you believe your friend has suicidal tendencies, why would you let them walk off in the middle of the night with no belongings?” Martinez said. “Why wouldn’t you, first thing in the morning, wake up and freak out ... On top of that, why would you wait all day, until 7:30 p.m. to report him missing?”