Trial Delayed for Alleged Killer of Straight Marine Mistaken for Gay
The man accused of stabbing a fellow Marine following an altercation in the city's Barracks Row neighborhood in April 2012 appeared in D.C. Superior Court Aug. 2 for the court to determine whether his defense team was prepared to go to trial.
Michael Poth, 21, of Southeast Washington, faces a charge of second-degree murder while armed for allegedly stabbing and killing 23-year-old Philip Bushong of Camp Lejune, N.C., in the 700 block of 8th Street SE during the early morning hours of April 21, 2012. According to witnesses, Poth yelled anti-gay epithets at Bushong, who was straight, but who was accompanied by a gay friend.
During the past year, Poth's trial date has twice been postponed as lawyers for both the defense and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia raised concerns that they would not be ready to proceed, informing D.C. Superior Court Judge Russell Canan of those concerns in a February 2013 status hearing.
Initially, Canan resisted requests to postpone Poth's March 2013 trial date, but later moved it to April after Poth's former lawyer, David Benowitz, cited personal health concerns. Benowitz also told Canan that he was having trouble coordinating with an expert witness who Benowitz claimed would be able to argue that Poth's military training led his client to reflexively attack Bushong.
Additionally, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Liebman advised Canan in February that he was not sure he would be ready for trial, citing difficulty securing court appearances of at least six Marines who witnessed the incident and held Poth until Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officers arrived at the scene.
Benowitz later asked to withdraw as defense counsel, citing irreconcilable differences with his client. Poth obtained a new attorney, Bernard Grimm, and the trial was again postponed to allow Grimm time to familiarize himself with the case.
At Friday's trial-readiness hearing, Canan set the trial to begin Nov. 12. Notably, a plea deal offered to Poth, under which he would plead guilty to second-degree murder while armed and serve a minimum of 12 and a maximum of 18 years in prison, expired June 1. Poth remains in custody, held without bond.
According to charging documents, eyewitness testimony, and video surveillance cameras around the Barracks Row neighborhood, Poth was acting erratically and brandishing an object, possibly a knife. Poth was seen on camera passing by an 8th Street venue where Bushong and his friend were seen embracing. Poth passed by the venue again, and Bushong and Poth exchanged words. Poth then allegedly called Bushong a ''faggot'' and threatened to stab him. Witnesses say Bushong grabbed Poth's shoulder and Poth stabbed Bushong in his chest. Bushong was pronounced dead later that morning.
Marines who saw Bushong fall to the ground detained Poth until police arrived. The Marines told police they had observed a bloody knife clipped to Poth's pants pocket. While in custody, Poth, without prompting by police, made several statements about the fight with Bushong that the prosecution alleges reveal his guilt, including saying he wished Bushong would die, claiming he had been punched in the face, and offering justifications for the stabbing, according to MPD. Poth later tested positive for artificial marijuana, also known as ''spice.''