By Yereth Rosen
ANCHORAGE (Reuters) - A U.S. Army soldier was sentenced on Thursday to nearly 12 years in a military prison for shooting and killing a fellow soldier early on Christmas Day, officials said.
Army Specialist Marshall Drake, stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, shoGrant Wis Private Grant Wise in the face in what military prosecutors described as an alcohol-fueled joke that went awry.
Drake was convicted and sentenced in a military proceeding held Wednesday and Thursday on the Anchorage base. He pleaded guilty on Wednesday to violating military rules by failing to register his gun and storing the weapon in his barracks, but he defended himself against the charge of involuntary manslaughter.
At the hearing, Drake's attorney described the shooting as a tragic accident that was not the defendant's fault, army officials said.
But military prosecutors presented testimony from a witness and other evidence showing that Drake had pointed the gun at Wise's face and fired, with the apparent belief that the weapon was not loaded, army officials said. The two had been drinking all night and the witness testified that both appeared intoxicated prior to the fatal shooting, officials said.
A military judge ruled that Drake's gross negligence caused Wise's death, said Army spokesman John Pennell.
"It was an accident. However, it was an accident of his own making," Pennell said.
Drake, 23, will be demoted to the rank of private, dishonorably discharged and will lose all pay and benefits, Pennell said.
Drake, from Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, joined the Army in 2009 and served in Afghanistan from December 2011 to October 2012, officials said
Wise, from Fairport, New York, was 25. He joined the army in 2011 and was assigned to Fort Bragg in North Carolina before being transferred to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, officials said.
(Editing by Edith Honan and Lisa Shumaker)