Jurors to decide Russian roulette case

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Jurors were asked Wednesday to decide who is responsible for the death of an Army sergeant who was killed in a drunken game of Russian roulette.

Is it the sergeant who pulled the trigger or his best friend and fellow soldier who twice demonstrated how to play the deadly game before handing him a bullet and a high-powered revolver?

Jacob Brouch, 27, is charged with manslaughter and a weapons violation in the death of 26-year-old Michael McCloskey, of Beverly, N.J., who died in March 2011 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his abdomen.

Prosecutors contend it was the conduct of the two men as they went on a 36-hour drinking binge at Brouch's home near Anchorage that was reckless and led to McCloskey's death. They said it was Brouch who handed his friend the bullet and the six-shot revolver after McCloskey repeatedly expressed his hatred of Russian roulette.

McCloskey paid for his conduct that day with his life but there is another unpaid debt, said Assistant District Attorney Joe Kovac in his closing argument Wednesday in Superior Court.

"It can't all be placed on Michael," Kovac said. "But for the defendant and this game, Michael McCloskey could still be here, a father to his son and soldier to his country."

After a day and a half of drinking beer, whiskey and Jagermeister and playing with guns while posing for photos, Brouch handed his friend "the keys to unlocking his own destruction" when he twice demonstrated how to play Russian roulette, Kovac said. The final act was when he handed McCloskey the gun and a bullet and the sergeant shot himself in Brouch's bathroom, Kovac said.

"That is sheer and shocking recklessness," he said. "Earlier, he gambled with his own life. Later with his friend's."

McCloskey ended up staying at Brouch's house on March 5 to avoid returning to Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson because he was inebriated. The two Army buddies continued drinking and embarked on a two-day binge in which they roughhoused, talked in fake Russian accents and posed with the guns in pictures that McCloskey wanted to post on Facebook, prosecutors said.

According to prosecutors, Brouch plays Russian roulette in front of two of his stepchildren at one point but tells them the gun was unloaded so it is safe. McCloskey gets upset with Brouch for playing the game in front of the boys. The drinking continues and the revolver later is brought out in a back bedroom of the home where this time the gun is loaded. Brouch points it at his chest and head and pulls the trigger. He tells his friend he can see where the bullet is in the chamber so it's safe to play.

At some point after that, the two men end up in Brouch's bathroom where McCloskey ends up shooting himself.

Public defender Dunnington Babb began his closing argument by showing jurors photos taken during the drinking binge, including several of the two men posed with weapons pointing at each other's heads. A few of the pictures showed Brouch's two stepchildren with oversized toy guns of their own.

"Everyone makes mistakes," Babb said. "We ultimately have a weekend of four kids playing around with guns, all of them treated as toys."

Babb said the state's theory that somehow Brouch got control of McCloskey's mind and dissolved his common sense is insulting. It was McCloskey who decided to pull the trigger, he said.

"Asking you to put that on Jacob Brouch is wrong," Babb said.

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