Asian and Filipino American leaders are coming to the aid of a New Jersey FilAm soldier who is locked up in a Texas jail despite posting bail.
United States Army Specialist Christian Mariano, 23, who served in Afghanistan in 2003, has claimed self-defense in the stabbing of Khyle Dittrich, a 19-year-old white man from Gatesville, Texas, with a four-inch pocketknife.
“This family needs help,” said Ludi de Asis Hughes, the highest-ranking FilAm government official in New Jersey. “Christian was the only person charged in this unfortunate situation. His parents were not contacted until a week later. I hope this has nothing to do with race.”
Sonny Sampayan, retired FilAm U.S. Air Force personnel, wrote to FilAm organizations: “Let’s give our moral support to Christian Mariano. … Christian was recently charged with murder in the 1st degree for defending himself when someone from behind him in the dark suddenly choked Christian and said, ‘You’re going to die.’”
Lino Celle of Radyo Pinoy is among other Mariano defenders, which include the 80-20 PAC’s President S.B. Woo, who posted information surrounding the case to 700,000 people on www.80-20initiative.net.
“This is the best time when PIDCI (Philippine Independence Day Council, Inc.) and NaFFAA (National Federation of Filipino American Associations) can work together,” said Ernesto Gange of Pennsylvania. “We can even form a legal ‘dream team’ to help this family.”
On the night of the incident, Mariano, a roommate and another friend went to pick up a female friend who complained of being beaten up by an ex-boyfriend.
When Mariano and his friends arrived at the meeting place on County Road 507, they were surprised to see other men besides the ex-boyfriend, according to family members.
Two vehicles met, one with four occupants and one with three. Clinton Kunze and Mariano had gone to pick up Kunze’s girlfriend, Tonya Bottlinger. They came together as she was on her way out with her cousin, J.D. Cunningham, to meet an ex-boyfriend. Claire Mariano told AsianWeek that Clayton Landua and Dittrich were waiting with the ex-boyfriend when they arrived.
The Hamilton County investigating officer, Captain Jim Buster, said the ex-boyfriend started the fight by throwing the first blow at Mariano’s friend, Cunningham. Then the ex-boyfriend hit Kunze. Sometime during the altercation, Mariano and Dittrich got involved.
In the ensuing melee, Mariano had tried to stop Dittrich from choking him and stabbed him. Dittrich died at the hospital and Mariano faces a charge of first-degree murder.
Mariano’s Manila-born parents, Nestor and Claire Mariano of Bayonne, N.J., said their son told them he was left with no choice but to defend himself from the 240-pound Dittrich. Mariano weighs 180 pounds.
“Christian did not know any of the people involved except his friend Kunze and the girlfriend, Tonya Bottlinger. He had nothing to gain in any of this. It’s notable that he was the only minority involved,” Claire Mariano explained to AsianWeek. This particular area of Texas is quite discriminatory, she added. “It felt like us against the world when we went to Hamilton County for the hearing.”
Mariano’s parents have asked for assistance to show support to their son, who remains incarcerated despite them posting bond.
The money is still in the hands of the defense counsel, David Stokes –– a highly regarded Texas lawyer –– because of “complications in the case.”
“The judge approved the bail for my son’s temporary release on the condition that the Army will have an administrative hold of him,” Claire Mariano told The Filipino Reporter. “But the Army has yet to act and my son is still in Hamilton County Jail. I don’t want to jeopardize anything, but it’s really upsetting.”
“The military said if there is an order to deploy, then the military will deploy,” she added. “But the judge would not agree with it until he gets an assurance from the military that it will put my son on administrative hold.”
The judge’s main concern is that Mariano could be deployed at any time to Iraq and this could delay the litigation of the case, Claire Mariano said. The trial is now set for February.
The Filipino Reporter contributed to this article.