A Former U.S. Army sergeant admitted to stabbing a fellow soldier to death as retaliation because the victim turned the killer’s friend in for using marijuana.
Byron Booker, 29, hails from Ludowici, Georgia. He recently pleaded guilty to one count of premeditated murder of a member of the U.S. uniformed services, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia.
“Byron Booker murdered a former fellow soldier in cold blood in retaliation for that soldier performing his duties as a service member,” U.S. Attorney David H. Estes, himself a retired U.S. Army Colonel, said in a press release. “The FBI and the Department of the Army Criminal Investigative Division did outstanding work in solving this despicable crime and bringing Booker to justice.”
The body of 21-year-old specialist Austin J. Hawk was found in his room in the Fort Stewart barracks in June 2020. He had been slashed or stabbed 40 separate times, a medical examiner determined.
But authorities believe that Booker had help.
The co-defendant in the case, Jordan Brown, 21, who hails from St. Marys, Georgia, is the person who Hawk was required to report on for suspected drug use. Hawk did so and Brown was subsequently subject to urinalysis. After his urine came back positive for THC, the Army initiation involuntary separation procedures.
In accepting legal culpability for Hawk’s brutal death, Booker said he and Brown talked about “silencing” the specialist at the Fort Stewart Military Reservation in response to the report of marijuana use.
“Brown was angry at Hawk, as he believed Hawk had cost him his position in the Army, his paycheck, his housing, and possibly his relationship with his father,” Booker’s plea agreement says.
The court document goes on:
Defendant Booker and Brown agreed something should be done to SPC Hawk because SPC Hawk was a “snitch.” The pair discussed beating Hawk up, damaging his car, or breaking things in Hawk’s barracks room. … Defendant Booker suggested that Brown, while serving as the “staff duty” runner on June 14-15, remove a barracks master key from a key box and surreptitiously provide it to Defendant Booker. … According to the plan, Defendant Booker would travel a short distance to Hawk’s barracks room, use the master key to enter, “silence” Hawk, and then return the key to Brown before anyone knew it was missing.
Brown expressed some doubt about the plan’s efficacy, but Booker was adamant that it was foolproof, according to the plea agreement.
“Who’s gonna find out?” he asked. “It’s gonna be four in the morning – dark – ain’t nobody up; ain’t nobody gonna be outside; no one’s gonna find out.”
When Brown still expressed reservations, Booker tried to still his doubts by saying: “They aren’t gonna have anything. We don’t even know if they can check the locks. They’re not gonna find anything.”
Still, Brown resisted, eventually saying that Hawk’s death was crossing the line because the “punishment should fit the crime.” Booker insisted on the murder but Brown repeatedly said that Hawk should not be “silenced.” In the end, Brown suggested that Booker break Hawk’s jaw instead, the plea agreement notes.
A few days later, just after midnight on June 17, 2020, Booker unlawfully gained entrance to Fort Stewart by walking around concrete barriers at the commercial vehicle entrance. Then he traveled a mile on foot before making his way to the barracks. “Based upon electronic lock records for Hawk’s room, it appears Defendant Booker somehow caused Hawk to open his door from the inside.”
After a prolonged struggle, Hawk was dead. He had been stabbed with a blade in the brain, lungs, and kidney. A three-inch gash across his throat, medical examiners believe, was the fatal blow. During the fight, Booker accidentally cut his own hand, and was bleeding as he left.
Brown would later tell investigators that he heard the tussle but that he thought Hawk was just exercising or moving furniture.
Booker was arrested within hours of the attack.
“Booker’s plea is a direct result of the hard work and persistence put in by the FBI Savannah Resident Agency and our partners at the U.S. Army and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia,” Keri Farley, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta, said. “Hawk’s family and friends will never be rid of the pain this senseless murder has caused them, but hopefully it gives them some sense of resolve to know that justice will be served.”
Brown is currently awaiting further proceedings on a litany of charges including: conspiracy, assault upon a member of the U.S. uniformed services, conspiracy to retaliate against a witness, retaliation against a witness with bodily injury, retaliation against a witness with killing, murder of a member of the U.S. uniformed services, and premeditated murder.
A GoFundMe campaign started by Hawk’s family said loved ones were “devastated” by his death.
“The heinous murder of Austin has left his family devastated. They are in disbelief to find out their beloved son was murdered by his fellow servicemen. No family should have to endure what Austin’s family have had to go through,” Austin Hawk’s family said. “It is unimaginable to realize your child who is serving his country would be murdered by the very people who he called his brothers.”
The grieving loved ones also called on “all individuals involved in Austin’s murder to be accountable for what they have done.”
[Images via GoFundMe/Julie Hawk, mugshot]
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