Charges Amended For Coast Guardsman Accused Of Murdering Shipmate In Unalaska

Nov 22, 2019

U.S. Coast Guard Seaman Ethan Tucker was released Monday, Nov. 18 from a military prison in San Diego, where he's been confined since his arrest in late August.
Credit Berett Wilber/KUCB

A member of the U.S. Coast Guard accused of murdering his shipmate was released from a California military prison this week, as prosecutors amended the charges against him.

Seaman Ethan Tucker, 21, is charged with killing Seaman Ethan Kelch, 19, while their vessel, the Kodiak-based Cutter Douglas Munro, was stopped for repairs in Unalaska last winter.

When Tucker was first charged in August, after a seven-month investigation, military prosecutors said he strangled and punched Kelch while they were drinking on a beach near the port, before dragging Kelch's body to the water and leaving him to drown.

This week, prosecutors amended the charges against Tucker, revising language to accuse him of "leaving" Kelch in the water rather than "placing" him there — and of "unlawfully striking" Kelch rather than "causing blunt force trauma" to his head.

They also dropped an allegation of maiming. 

The changes come after Tucker's defense attorney presented a very different account of what happened the night Kelch died. At a hearing last month, the defense said Kelch became belligerent while drinking and tried to go swimming, prompting Tucker to try to restrain him and keep him out of the cold water.

That's according to reports from the San Diego Union-Tribune, which is covering the court proceedings in California.

Another hearing is set for early December, as Tucker is still charged with six violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, including murder, aggravated assault, involuntary manslaughter, and obstruction of justice.

The prosecution and defense are expected to present evidence, while the Coast Guard's Pacific Area commander decides whether the case should proceed to a court-martial trial.

In the meantime, Tucker has been released from the Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar in San Diego, where he'd been confined since his summer arrest.

In an email, a Coast Guard spokesperson said a commanding officer reviewed the case and determined that a "lesser form of restraint" would be sufficient to ensure that Tucker appears for future hearings and does not commit any crimes.

Tucker is now restricted to the Coast Guard's base in Alameda, California and supervised by base security. He is allowed to perform "logistics" duties, including "working in the mail room, setting up equipment, stages, and chairs for presentations, and other duties as necessary for the base."