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Manslaughter trial begins in Russian roulette death

Casey Grove

Police say a drunken game of Russian roulette in 2011 cut short the life of an Anchorage soldier who survived two tours of duty overseas. The manslaughter trial for his best friend, the fellow soldier who handed him a gun and a bullet, began Wednesday.

Prosecutors said Jacob Brouch's reckless actions caused the untimely death of Michael McCloskey, 26. Now Brouch, 27, is on trial for his role in the killing and for handling a firearm while drunk.

"The mind struggles to think of an activity as grim as the game of Russian roulette," said prosecutor Joe Kovac in his opening statement Wednesday morning to the jury.

Russian roulette, Kovac explained, is when a single round of ammunition is loaded into a revolver, the chamber spun and the hammer cocked. The participant points the gun at his or her body and pulls the trigger, with a one-in-six chance of shooting themselves, Kovac said.

It was Brouch's .44-caliber Ruger Red Hawk magnum revolver that killed McCloskey, Kovac said. The men were both very drunk, at Brouch's house, and Brouch had urged McCloskey to play Russian roulette, even though McCloskey said repeatedly he hated the game, the prosecutor said.

There were also two kids -- Brouch's 12- and 14-year-old stepsons -- sleeping in a different room. The men had talked about not pointing the gun in the kids' direction in case it went off, Kovac said.

Brouch had been pointing the gun at himself earlier, Kovac said. The two men posed for pictures with guns pointed at each other and themselves, he said. It wasn't until about 2 a.m., March 6, 2011, when Brouch finally convinced McCloskey to play Russian roulette, Kovac said.

"They had words with each other and then spoke to each other in Russian accents," Kovac said.

It's unclear what was said. Brouch claims not to remember, Kovac said. Brouch handed McCloskey the revolver and a single bullet, the prosecutor said.

"The defendant eagerly supplied him with the implements of his destruction," Kovac said.

There was a "deafening boom," Kovac said, and McCloskey fell to the floor, shot through the stomach. Police later discovered the bullet traveled through McCloskey, a wall and a closet and lodged in another wall, Kovac said.

Brouch lost his best friend when McCloskey died, said one of Brouch's attorneys, Jonathan Torres, when it was his turn to speak to the jury.

"There is no need to punish Mr. Brouch any more," Torres said.

McCloskey's death was not the result of a game of Russian roulette and instead caused by drunkenness and improper firearm handling, Torres said.

McCloskey was driving back to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson from Chickaloon when he decided to go to Brouch's house in Eagle River to avoid base security catching him driving drunk, Torres said.

Torres said the men drank that Friday night, continued to drink through Saturday and into the early morning hours Sunday, when McCloskey shot himself.

"They engaged in what can only be described as an alcohol-fueled bender," Torres said.

Brouch pointed the revolver at himself at one point, in front of others including the children, and pulled the trigger, Torres said. He then showed them it was unloaded, the attorney said. Brouch and McCloskey posed with the guns because McCloskey wanted some photos he could post to Facebook, Torres said.

And it was McCloskey who later asked Brouch for the revolver and a round of ammunition, Torres said.

"This was reckless by Mr. McCloskey, and this is where personal responsibility comes to bear," Torres said. "Jacob (Brouch) did not cause Mr. McCloskey to pick up the gun, point it at himself and pull the trigger. Make no mistake about it, this was a tragic, tragic accident. But Mr. McCloskey assumed the risk when he pointed the gun at himself and pulled the trigger."

McCloskey was from Beverly, N.J., and joined the Army in August 2002, according to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. He came to Alaska in 2010 and was a construction engineer with the 84th Engineer Company, 6th Engineer Battalion, 3rd Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, the Army said.

McCloskey wrapped up his second tour in Iraq in November 2009, the Army said.

Reach Casey Grove at or 257-4589.

Anchorage Daily News