It was about midnight on June 17th, 2020. A figure entered the Fort Stewart barracks room of Army Specialist Austin Hawk and viscously stabbed him more than 40 times, leaving him for dead. The killer struck multiple blows to Hawk’s head, neck, and torso. In addition, a deep three-inch slash was made across the victim’s throat, completely severing his jugular vein. Someone wanted him dead, and they got their wish.
According to the US Department of Justice (DOJ), and as reported by ArmyTimes, a former Army Sergeant pleaded guilty to the brutal murder. Twenty-nine-year-old Byron Booker of Ludowici, Georgia, admitted to the pre-meditated killing of Hawk. The reason? He reported his fellow soldiers for marijuana use. Marijuana is legal for use (either recreationally or for medical purposes) in all but 12 states. At a federal level, however, it remains a banned Schedule I drug. In October of 2022, President Biden called for the reform of federal marijuana laws.
Documents provided by the US Attorney’s Office, Southern District of Georgia, state that Booker awaits sentencing for the Premeditated Murder of a Member of the United States Uniformed Services. He faces a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
US Attorney David Estes, a retired US Army Colonel, stated, “Byron Booker murdered a former fellow soldier in cold blood in retaliation for that soldier performing his duties as a service member.” He continued,
“The FBI and the Department of the Army Criminal Investigative Division did outstanding work in solving this despicable crime and bringing Booker to justice.”
Court records show that on May 20th, 2020, Hawk filed a report with his command regarding marijuana use by Byron and another soldier, former Specialist Jordan Brown. Byron had only days left to serve in the military and received an honorable discharge before any action could be taken. Brown, however, was now facing a court martial after failing command-ordered drug testing.
Booker and Brown were furious at Hawk for what they perceived as a traitorous action. They proceeded to plot multiple ways to seek revenge on him. Brown blamed Hawk for his pay being withheld and for losing his girlfriend (who broke up with him after hearing of the impending court-martial). He was also blamed for worsening the relationship between Brown and his father and the loss of Brown’s housing (involuntary separation proceedings were initiated against him).
Yesterday, December 1st, 2022, twenty-one-year-old Brown pleaded guilty in federal court to Assault Upon a US Servicemember Involving Bodily Injury or a Deadly Weapon and Retaliation Against a Witness Involving Bodily Injury. Documents made available by the US Attorney’s Office show that Brown awaits sentencing by US District Court Judge R. Stan Baker, and he could receive a sentence of “not less than 198 months in prison, nor more than 240 months, along with potential fines and restitution, followed by three years of supervised release upon completion of his prison term.” There is no parole in the federal prison system.
US Attorney Estes, in speaking about both of the defendants, said,
“The guilty pleas of these two defendants firmly establish their culpability in the despicable murder of a former fellow soldier in retaliation for performing his duties as a service member. They will now be held accountable for their bloody conspiracy.”
Former Specialist Brown, who was at the time of the murder still on active duty, helped the then-discharged Booker gain access to the barracks on Fort Stewart on the night of the killing. Booker’s plea agreement states that he somehow got Hawk to open the door for him, but no specifics on how he did this were provided. Additionally, court documents state that Brown was not in the room at the time of the murder.
According to the website Law & Crime, Booker and Brown discussed beating Hawk, stealing items from him, or damaging his vehicle. The more they talked, the more they agreed that was not enough punishment and that the “snitch” must be “silenced.” Then Brown changed his mind, worried that they could never get away with murder. He is also quoted as telling Booker that “the punishment should fit the crime.” Brown suggested that breaking Hawk’s jaw would be punishment enough.
It wasn’t until after Brown’s girlfriend left him that he agreed with Booker about the final plan and that Hawk had to go. Brown’s plea agreement tells how the two went to a McDonald’s drive-thru on the night of the murder, smoked pot, and pondered life and existentialism. As they downed their cheeseburgers and fries, they came to the common understanding that “things don’t matter, and you can do anything.”
Hours later, Booker attacked Hawk in his room, and Hawk fought back. The scuffle was so loud that Brown could hear it in his barracks room one floor below. Booker had cut his hand before delivering the fatal slash to Hawk’s throat, and his blood was plentiful at the crime scene.
Specialist Hawk’s body was found in a pool of dried blood the next day.