Soldier-stepdad portrayed by defense as loving father

Man charged with killing 4-year-old boy

Posted: Friday, August 18, 2000

FAIRBANKS - A soldier at Fort Wainwright charged in court-martial proceedings for the death of his 4-year-old stepson is being portrayed by defense lawyers as a loving father.

Army Sergeant Scott Buber is accused of assaulting Ja'lon Jercorious Johnson, resulting in the child's death in December.

The boy died at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage a little more than a week after Buber found the child unresponsive.

His defense contends the boy's death was the result of two different injuries a fall down some stairs and an accidental head-butt two weeks later as Buber and the child played football.

Buber is charged with premeditated murder, assault and making a false statement to agents in the Army's Criminal Investigation Division.

Buber could be sent to prison for life and lose all military rank and privileges if convicted of the charges.

"It appeared to be a close loving relationship; there was nothing to indicate anything else," defense attorney Chris Zimmerman said in his opening remarks Thursday afternoon. "You'll find that what we have here is a tragic accident."

Prosecutors finished their side of the case by calling to the stand a number of caregivers, medical personal, officers from Criminal Investigation Division and a pediatric forensics expert.

They worked to establish other incidents of alleged abuse by Buber from caregiver testimony.

Buber said on the stand that the boy received a black eye during a fight between Johnson and Buber's son from a previous marriage. A puncture wound on the head was laughed at by medical personnel at Bassett Army Community Hospital, he said.

Buber said, however, that he didn't know what had caused a bruise on Johnson's buttocks.

Defense attorneys earlier had moved to suppress reports about the earlier injuries. The motions were denied by presiding judge Col. Robert Holland.

Buber was the first to testify in his own defense, describing his close relationship with the child.

"I was his father; I never thought of him as a stepson," Buber said.

He broke down several times as Zimmerman questioned him and struggled to keep his composure when he described events while the boy was on life- support in Anchorage.

Buber went to great lengths to explain a fall down the stairs and the head-butting incident in the living room.

He admitted not mentioning those incidents to the attending doctor at Bassett or to the two Army investigators who had interviewed him shortly after the child was flown to Anchorage.

"I just blurted out we were sleeping," Buber recalled telling the doctor. "I was running about 100 mph in my mind."

As for his interview with the first agent the day after he had taken Johnson to the hospital, he said he was busy preparing for the trip to Anchorage and taking care of his stepson. He explained why he told the agent that he and the child had fallen asleep while watching television that night.

"At that time I was trying to get him (the agent) out of my house," Buber said of the investigator.

He had the same response for another agent at Anchorage. Buber said he was overwhelmed by events after seeing his stepson on life support and being accused of abusing him.

"I didn't intend to deceive him," Buber said about the investigator. "I wanted to talk to my wife first."

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