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Ex-Army Sergeant Admits He Fatally Stabbed Service Member Who Reported Fellow Soldier’s Marijuana Use

Austin Hawk

Austin Hawk

Austin Hawk.

A former U.S. Army sergeant admitted he fatally stabbed a fellow service member who reported another soldier for smoking marijuana.

Byron Booker, 29, pleaded guilty this week to premeditated murder in connection with the death of 21-year-old Specialist Austin J. Hawk at Georgia’s Fort Stewart Military installation in June 2020.

Booker faces a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison, without the possibility of parole, according to a Department of Justice press release.

“Byron Booker murdered a former fellow soldier in cold blood in retaliation for that soldier performing his duties as a service member,” said U.S. Attorney David H. Estes in the 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.”

Prosecutors said Booker made his way into Hawk’s barracks room shortly after midnight on June 17 and “slashed and stabbed Hawk repeatedly with a sharp-edged weapon,” according to the release.

Hawk was discovered the following day. A medical examiner said he had 40 stab and slash wounds.

The attack was in retaliation for Hawk reporting to U.S. Army leadership the marijuana use of fellow soldier, Jordan Brown.

Byron Booker

Byron Booker

Byron Booker.

According to the plea agreement, which was obtained by PEOPLE, Hawk was required by Army regulations to make the report against Brown.

“Brown learned of the report almost immediately and attempted to confront Hawk by calling him and visiting Hawk’s barracks room,” the plea agreement states. “Hawk did not answer the phone and refused to open his barracks room door.”

Brown was subsequently asked to take a urine test and was notified by officials that his urine had tested positive for THC, and that the Army was “initiating involuntary separation proceedings against him.”

According to the plea agreement, Booker and Brown determined that “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,” the plea agreement states. “Booker suggested a plan to ‘silence’ Hawk for reporting Brown’s drug use.”

Booker allegedly suggested that Brown steal the master key for the barracks and give it to him, but Brown couldn’t get the key, according to the plea agreement.

“Brown told [Booker] that killing Hawk was too much because ‘the punishment should fit the crime,'” the plea agreement states. “According to a recorded law enforcement interview of Brown, Brown suggested Booker do something less like beat Hawk up, either in Hawk’s barracks room or in public. Booker replied, however, that Hawk deserved to be ‘silenced’ for snitching.”

According to the plea agreement, Brown and Booker met up on June 15 — two days before the murder — and smoked marijuana and discussed “life and existentialism; almost like things don’t matter and you can do anything.”

Then, on June 17, Booker drove to the installation around 12:20 a.m. and parked his vehicle outside a gate before walking about a mile to Hawk’s barracks room.

“Booker knew Hawk would be alone in his room at that hour because Brown told him Hawk’s roommate had recently moved out,” according to the plea agreement. “Based upon electronic lock records for Hawk’s room, it appears Booker somehow caused Hawk to open his door from the inside.”

A fight between the two men ensued and lasted about 40 minutes, the plea agreement states.

“Booker and Hawk moved around the room as the attack went on, causing so much noise that the occupant of the barracks room directly below — Brown — heard prolonged noises ‘like furniture moving.'”

Booker was arrested the following day.

Brown was charged with conspiracy, assault upon a member of the United States 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 United States Uniformed Services, and premeditated murder. His trial is pending.

Attorneys for Booker and Brown could not be reached for comment.