- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Marine charged with fatally stabbing a fellow Marine during a late-night brawl had a history of drug use and belligerent behavior and had been heard by witnesses about an hour before the crime saying he was looking to stab someone, prosecutors said Monday.

Michael Poth, 20, a Marine stationed at the Marine Barracks Washington in Southeast, had been “nothing but trouble” for the active post located at 8th and I streets and was close to being discharged other than honorably from service, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Liebman said. The man’s actions, according to witnesses early Saturday morning, did not support a self-defense argument, the prosecution said.

“He used a knife in what could have been nothing more than a fist fight,” Mr. Liebman said.

Mr. Poth, who resides at the Southeast barracks, appeared in D.C. Superior Court on a second-degree murder while armed charge in the stabbing death of Philip Bushong, a 23-year-old Marine from Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Mr. Poth’s attorney, David Benowitz, told reporters there was “evidence of self-defense,” including the government’s witness testimony that Mr. Bushong turned around to follow Mr. Poth and appeared to throw a punch at him.

Mr. Benowitz did not comment on a report from police, who said Mr. Poth uttered a homophobic slur during the exchange.

At least four Marines in tan and olive uniforms sat in the audience but quickly left after Mr. Poth’s appearance.

Court documents state that at about 3 a.m. Saturday a Marine on duty saw Mr. Poth and Bushong pass one another along the 700 block of 8th Street Southeast.

The witness told police he saw Mr. Bushong turn around and begin to follow Mr. Poth. The witness said he heard Mr. Poth say, “I’m going to stab you,” and then watched Mr. Bushong grab Mr. Poth’s shoulder and motion as though he was going to punch the 20-year-old old.

The witness, according to records, “saw the defendant with a knife in his hand and thrust it towards” Mr. Bushong’s upper body.

When Mr. Bushong dropped to the ground, Mr. Poth took off running, according to court records, but was stopped by two other Marines.

Mr. Bushong was taken to a hospital where he died.

A third witness interviewed by police said he found a knife clipped to Mr. Poth’s pants pocket that was “closed and covered with blood.”

Court records state that Mr. Poth was listening to radio transmissions and said “Good, I hope he dies,” when he heard Mr. Bushong had been taken to a hospital.

Another witness, who was not identified in court papers, told police that earlier in the morning, at about 1:30 a.m., they had heard Mr. Poth say, “I’m going to stab somebody, or cut their lungs out.”

Mr. Poth was dressed for court in a white jumpsuit and handcuffs, a thick chain around his waist. He said nothing except to identify himself by name for the judge who ordered him to remain behind bars until his next hearing May 15.

The incident weighed on some residents and nearby business operators along Barracks Row on Monday.

“There are not too many fights around here,” said Jorge Ribera, a manager of Banana Cafe and Piano Bar, who’s worked for the restaurant for nearly all 17 years it’s been open. “This is a good area. I see these guys all the time. They are nice here. I’m surprised. It’s more of a shock.”

Alex Brewer, a three-year resident of Capitol Hill and 10-year resident of the District, said that based on what is known about the case right now two words come to mind: “isolated incident.”

“This is not something likely to happen again,” he said, calling Mr. Poth’s actions “horrifying,” but also “a poor decision.”

“It isn’t a reflection of the neighborhood,” Mr. Brewer said, adding that the Marines, “help little old ladies carry big bags of dog food. They’re some of the most polite, well spoken, nicest guys. Marines are not violent guys.”

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