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Ex-Marine who felt 'A Few Good Men' maligned him is mysteriously murdered

April 10, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Writer

"I had on my little white uniform and stuck out at Guantanamo Bay," Mr. Marcari said. "I'm going through this brig, and here I see this kid standing at attention. I gave him a little wink and he gave me a smile, and I guess he knew then that I wasn't that bad a guy."

By turning down the deal for an "other than honorable discharge," Mr. Cox faced a general court-martial and a potential 20-year sentence at Leavenworth. So Mr. Marcari wanted to be sure his client understood the stakes.

Mr. Marcari recalled, "David told me, 'I have nothing else. All I want to be is a Marine.' I said, 'David, you could take this deal and go home.' And he again said, 'No, I want to be a Marine.' "

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

So attorney and client fought the Marines. And they got the best victory they could in a four-day court-martial at Guantanamo.

Mr. Cox was found not guilty of aggravated battery but guilty of simple assault, a misdemeanor that carried a 30-day jail sentence. But because he had already served 38 days in the brig, the sentence was waived.

And Mr. Cox was free to resume his Marine career, serving out the final two years in places as diverse as South Korea, Panama and North Carolina.

When he was discharged in 1989, Mr. Cox held the rank of corporal.

He had served his country. And now, the blemish of his career seemingly behind him, he prepared to return home to settle down, to find work, to start a career.

'Back to square one'

"The kids who had gone to college were going on to $60,000-a-year jobs," Mr. Steeves said. "And we were back to square one. You don't have a skill for the civilian world. David was a scout sniper. But that leaves you nothing."

Steven Cox remembers his younger brother David this way:

"He was warm-hearted. Compassionate. Outgoing. The kind of guy who would yell at a baseball game. But also the kind of guy who broke down and cried for two hours the day [Boston Celtics' star] Reggie Lewis died.

"And my brother also worked hard," Steven Cox said.

David Cox always had one kind of job or another.

He hauled trash, pumped gas, worked with Mr. Steeves in a home improvement business, worked a year for a rug shampoo company, attended bartender school, even received a two-year paralegal degree.

But Steven Cox also said this about his brother: "In his heart, he remained a Marine."

His friends and family say that David Cox was not embittered by his Marine experience. Talk of the court-martial died down long before he returned home. It was forgotten, even.

And then, "A Few Good Men," a play written by Aaron Sorkin that opened on Broadway in 1989 and ran for 14 months, was turned into a movie that was released in the winter of 1992-1993.

D8 "That's when all hell broke loose," Steven Cox said.

Life on screen

They clasped hands in the darkness of the movie theater. They whispered. And they watched.

As the story of two Marines facing a court-martial unfolded in the film "A Few Good Men," Elaine Tinsley remembers David Cox fidgeting in his seat.

In the movie, there was an accidental murder, a tight little cast of characters led by Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson and Demi Moore and dishonorable discharges for the two fictional Marines, Harold Dawson and Loudon Downey.

But in real life, the life Mr. Cox led, nobody died, and no one was dishonorably discharged.

"For me, it was just a movie," Ms. Tinsley said. "But for him, it was his life. He went through that."

Mr. Cox was apparently outraged. He gave a February 1993 interview with a local newspaper, the Natick Bulletin, in which he said, "If I hadn't known the truth, it probably would've been the best movie I've ever seen in my life."

Mr. Cox said he was struck by the similarities between the events of his life and the movie.

The fictional setting was Guantanamo Bay.

The victim's name in the movie is William Santiago, who, like the real-life William Alvarado, wrote a letter to officials to complain of illegal firing into Cuban territory.

Following orders

And, as in Mr. Cox's court martial, the key element of the defense was that the Marines were following implied orders from their superiors.

"Mostly, he didn't like the outcome -- that the two Marines were relieved of duty and dishonorably discharged," Steven Cox said. "The whole thing ended up rotten in the end."

A spokesman for Castle Rock Entertainment, a Beverly Hills-based company co-owned by the film's director, Rob Reiner, declined to comment.

Repeated attempts to reach Mr. Sorkin's California-based agent also were unsuccessful.

"David wanted to see fairness," Steven Cox added. "He felt they [the filmmakers] were going to make millions with this movie, a movie that was based on some of his experiences. David and some of the other guys said, 'Jeez, this is an invasion of privacy. And then, they portray us as killers.' "

David Cox was mad, all right.

Mad enough to sue.

Mad enough to contact his former attorney, Mr. Marcari, now in private practice in Virginia Beach, Va., the pair writing the first chapter of a planned book that would set the record straight.

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