Marine staff sergeant found not guilty in 2021 death of recruit at South Carolina’s Parris Island

29 July 2023

A staff sergeant who oversaw Marine training at South Carolina’s Parris Island has been cleared of criminal responsibility in the death of a 19-year-old recruit in 2021.

A military jury on Friday found Staff Sgt. Steven Smiley not guilty of negligent homicide and four other counts in the death of Pfc. Dalton Beals, The Hilton Head Island Packet reported.

The defense argued with the help of medical experts that an existing heart condition contributed to Beals’ death. The prosecution had asserted Beals was suffering from heat stroke after Smiley pushed him too hard.

The jury did, however, find Smiley guilty of violating an order that forbids drill instructors from calling recruits names. Smiley called recruits “pig” and “war pigs” and “sweet bacon” during training. The jury was still deliberating on a sentence Friday night, the Island Packet reported.

Beals died on June 4, 2021, during a strenuous exercise known as “The Crucible” that caps a 13-week training course at Parris Island, one of two Marine training depots in the country.

Beals graduated in 2020 from Pennsville Memorial High School in Pennsville, New Jersey, the school noted in a Facebook post.

Several days before Beals began The Crucible, his mother posted on Facebook about the details of the grueling exercise, which she called “the final leg of my baby’s journey to becoming a Marine!” The 54-hour effort, during which recruits are allowed limited food and sleep, includes 48 miles (77 kilometers) of hiking, loaded with heavy gear.

As Smiley’s verdict was read Friday, his wife wept from her seat behind him in the front row of the courtroom, the Island Packet reported. The recruit’s mother, Stacie Beveridge Beals, told the newspaper she was not ready to comment.

Smiley became emotional as he read a statement to Beals’ family: “I’m sorry what happened to your son,” he said, adding that if something similar happened to his family, he “wouldn’t know what to do.”

Smiley, who joined the Marines in 2009 and has now completed his enlistment, said he plans to move to Wisconsin and be a firefighter and emergency first responder.

There have been a number of recruit deaths over the years at Parris Island, which has been training Marines since 1915 on the island off South Carolina’s coast. At least four Marine recruits have died in recent years with 10 total deaths since 2000, the Island Packet reported.

In 2018, a judge dismissed a lawsuit from the family of Raheel Siddiqui, a 20-year-old recruit from Michigan who killed himself in 2016 after a confrontation with a Parris Island drill instructor.

Siddiqui’s family disputed his suicide, saying he was targeted because of his Islamic faith. Several Marines were ultimately convicted for abuse, following evidence that drill instructors beat, choked and kicked recruits.

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