A 29-year-old former U.S. Army sergeant has admitted he stabbed a soldier to death in Georgia in a murder plot that also involved a 21-year-old ex-soldier from St. Marys.
The body of Specialist Austin J. Hawk, 21, was found in his Fort Stewart barracks room in June 2020.
Hawk had 40 stab or slash wounds, according to a medical examiner.
Byron Booker, of Ludowici, Georgia, pleaded guilty to premeditated murder of a member of the United States Uniformed Services. The case against Booker’s co-defendant, Jordan Brown, of St. Marys, Georgia, is still pending.
“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, himself a retired U.S. Army Colonel. “The FBI and the Department of the Army Criminal Investigative Division did outstanding work in solving this despicable crime and bringing Booker to justice.”
Per his plea agreement, Booker faces a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison, and there is no parole in the federal system.
Brown, 21, who was a U.S. Army specialist at the time of Hawk’s death, faces charges of 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. He is considered innocent unless or until proven guilty.
Booker admitted that he and Brown discussed “silencing” Hawk at Fort Stewart Military Reservation, in retaliation for Hawk reporting Brown and Booker to U.S. Army leadership for marijuana use.
Hawk’s report and a similar one by another soldier led to Brown’s “involuntary separation” from the Army after a positive drug test.
The plea agreement said that 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.”
Brown and Booker had a plan for Brown to swipe a master key and slip it to Booker so Booker could get into Hawk’s room and “send a message about snitching.” But Brown wasn’t able to get the master key and the plan fell apart.
But the next day, Brown’s girlfriend broke up with him after learning of his involuntary separation from the Army. When he talked to Booker about the break-up, Brown said “Hawk had ruined his life and taken everything from him, including his girlfriend.”
According to the plea agreement, days later, Booker got into Hawk’s barracks room shortly after midnight on June 17, 2020, and “slashed and stabbed Hawk repeatedly with a sharp-edged weapon.”
Brown, who was in the barracks room directly below Hawk’s room, heard the violent attack but told investigators “he simply thought Hawk was exercising or moving furniture.”
Hawk’s body was found in his Fort Stewart barracks room the next day.
Army Criminal Investigation Division techs responded from at least four locations to process the scene, authorities said.
Estes commended the work of CID Forensic Science Technicians from Fort Stewart, Fort Bragg, Fort Gordon, and Fort Jackson and from the analysts with the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory and the FBI Crime Lab.
“The collective response by the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice to this murder exemplifies the phenomenal teamwork between the Department of the Army Criminal Investigation Division, FBI, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of Georgia,” said Rusty Higgason, Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge of the CID Southeast Field Office.
The Department of the Army Criminal Investigation Division and the FBI are investigating the case, which is being prosecuted for the United States by Southern District of Georgia Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jennifer G. Solari and Darron J. Hubbard.
“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,” said Keri Farley, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “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.”