The soldier believed to have committed suicide at Aberdeen Proving Ground -- days before facing a court-martial on rape charges -- gave no indication he was a suicide risk, Army officials and his lawyer said yesterday.
Pvt. Alan M. May, 22, of Round Rock, Texas, was found dead Saturday morning by his roommate in a barracks reserved for trainees at the Army Ordnance Center and School. May had been scheduled for a court-martial today on allegations he raped a fellow trainee.
"I am devastated by this news," May's lawyer, Capt. Margaret K. Eckrote, said yesterday. "I talked to him on Friday and there was no indication that he would do something like this."
Officials have declined to classify the case as a suicide pending an investigation. They also have not confirmed reports that he was found hanging in his room.
"As far as the Army is concerned, it is still being classified as a death in the barracks," said George Mercer, an Aberdeen spokesman.
Mercer said May did not appear suicidal. Although psychiatric evaluation for soldiers facing court-martial is not mandatory, commanders and other superiors are trained to detect signs a soldier is troubled and to refer the person to a chaplain or counselor, Mercer said.
"Had he shown behavior that was potentially suicidal, his unit would have recommended him to talk to someone," Mercer said. "He did not show any signs, so he was not referred for any counseling."
Eckrote also said she was shocked at May's possible suicide -- because she believes he would have been found innocent of the rape charge. "I think one of the saddest things about this is that he apparently committed suicide before he had a chance for the system to work for him," she said. "I believe there was a good chance for an acquittal."
May entered basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., last year and was a reservist with the 980th Engineer Battalion at Austin Memorial Armed Forces Reserved Center in Texas, officials said. He had been attending the ordnance school's wheel vehicle maintenance course at Aberdeen and was assigned to Charlie Company of the 143rd Ordnance Battalion.
After graduating in September, May was held over at the proving ground and given odd jobs around the base pending the outcome of his court-martial.
Friends said May joined the Army for discipline. They described him as a fun-loving young man who enjoyed playing pool in his spare time and was very close to his family and fiancee.
He had recently returned to the base from holiday leave.
Eckrote declined to give details of the court-martial case, which she classified as a "date-rape type of situation." But she said May was charged Aug. 2 in the incident, which allegedly occurred July 20. She declined to explain why May received two Article 32 hearings -- the military equivalent of a grand jury -- saying only that she had objected to the first one as being "defective."
Eckrote said some of May's superiors testified at the hearings that he was an exemplary soldier.
"He was one that his chain of command had identified would do well," she said. "His duty record was excellent, and he was known to be a hard worker and one who motivated others."
Army officials have maintained that the case is not connected to the highly publicized investigation of two drill sergeants and a captain from the 143rd Ordnance Battalion who face courts-martial for charges ranging from rape to sexual harassment of female trainees.
An Army spokesman said yesterday that May's body will be sent today to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for an autopsy. The date of the autopsy had not been set.
Pub Date: 1/07/97