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Ludington native seaman charged with murder is freed from Alaska brig

The Associated Press

Anchorage, Alaska – A U.S. Coast Guard seaman charged with murder in the death of a fellow seaman during a night of drinking in Alaska has been released from custody.

Ethan Tucker was released from a San Diego brig Monday after the admiral overseeing his prosecution ordered a new hearing in the case.

Tucker, 21, from Ludington, Michigan, is charged with murder and involuntary manslaughter.

Ethan Tucker

Military prosecutors allege he beat 19-year-old Seaman Ethan Kelch of Virginia Beach, Virginia, in January and left him in frigid water, where he drowned.

A search was launched for Kelch when he failed to return Jan. 26 from liberty hours. Kelch was found unresponsive Jan. 27 along the shore of an island when the Coast Guard cutter Munro was docked in Dutch Harbor for repairs. Kelch was pronounced dead at a clinic.

Both Tucker and Kelch were serving on the cutter, based in Kodiak, Alaska.

During an October hearing, Tucker’s defense said multiple videos taken by a third man who was out with Tucker and Kelch that night demonstrate Tucker’s efforts to get Kelch out of the water.

The videos also show Kelch had repeatedly tried to go into the water, according to Tucker’s attorney, Navy Cmdr. Justin Henderson.

“The evidence, even 10 months after this tragedy, still supports that a fair trial will vindicate seaman Tucker,” Henderson told The Associated Press Thursday.

Soon after the October hearing, the military official overseeing the case sent the charges back to prosecutors for amendments. Among them, the changes deleted statements that Tucker had placed Kelch in the water.

The second Article 32 hearing, similar to a civil grand jury trial, is set for Dec. 9 at the Guard Base in Alameda, California, where Tucker is living. A second such hearing is required when charges are amended, said Coast Guard Senior Petty Officer NyxoLyno Cangemi

Despite the videos, Tucker remains charged with murder, Cangemi said.

“We are working to build the case,” he said.

The charging document still states that Tucker showed a wanton disregard for human life when he caused blunt force trauma to Kelch’s head and left him in water. The charges say Tucker lied when he said he injured his hand by punching a steel bulkhead.