Family of Churchville Marine killed in 1983 sues terrorists, collects $13.5 million
Churchville, N.Y. (WHAM) - What's most striking about an otherwise unassuming grave in the veterans section of Riverside Cemetery are the dates carved in stone.
Lance Corporal Craig Stockton died one week before his 19th birthday. Now, 34 years later his family has received a $13.5 million dollar settlement- the result of a lawsuit that was able to hold the nation of Iran responsible and force it to pay up.
“This case basically reached into the pocket of Iran and pulled out billions of Iranian funds and handed it over to the Marines' families,” said Rochester attorney Vince Merante.
Merante represents the family of his childhood friend Craig Stockton. Tough, athletic, and at times a troublemaker, the Churchville-Chili graduate eventually found a place to channel his energy.
“Craig was a tough cookie - a loyal friend,” said Merante. "He was the picture-perfect Marine and the kind of guy you would want in the foxhole with you."
Stockton joined the U.S. Marines in 1982 because of a friend named Mike Treat. It was known at the time as the “buddy system.”
“He was hashing around the idea and he decided he wanted to join. I know he loved it,” Treat said.
They went off to basic together but then separated. Stockton was stationed with a peace keeping operation in Beruit, Lebanon. A photo shows him in fatigues with a helmet, squinting to the camera. A buddy says this is the last photo taken of him alive.
On October 23, 1983, with dawn just breaking, a lone terrorist truck accelerated across the parking lot, crashed through several barriers, and detonated 12,000 pounds of explosives in the lobby of the Marine barracks. “Few Marines could find the words to tell what they were feeling. They were digging for their buddies,” said an ABC reporter covering the attack.
Stockton died as he slept.
“I heard about the bombing and it was just devastating! The first thing you do is pray,” Treat said, recalling the news. “My heart broke for Rick, his brother, and for his mother.”
In a televised address, President Ronald Reagan labeled the attack in a way Americans had not heard before. The attack was conducted by terrorists. "Those who directed this atrocity must be dealt justice,” President Reagan said.
"It was an eye-opener because terrorism wasn't what it was today," Treat said. "It was a starting point for me - to be aware of it and that it was a threat to the world."
Justice would take aim at Iran for its financial support of the terrorist group Hezbollah. A wrongful death suit was filed on behalf of the 241 Marines who died, their families, and other people impacted by another Hezbollah attack. 13WHAM News poured through hundreds of pages of legal filings documenting the long court battle that resulted in a $3 billion judgement in 2007.
The issue, though, was how to collect.
“What the attorneys did was serve subpoenas on every bank in the United States,” said Merante.
It would take an act of Congress and finally a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court last year to seize the money and authorize the payout.
The Stocktons have since received $13.5 million minus court costs and attorney fees. “This case has really changed a lot of people's lives - and rightfully so,” said Merante. “You can't bring back those 241 Marines that were killed, but there's a sense of retribution and restitution."
In 1983, Craig Stockton came home to his family. His mother Donna and brother Rick declined to be interviewed for this story. The settlement money, they say, could have funded more terrorist attacks - and instead now sends a message.
“Now it's a whole new ball game as far as terrorist acts," Merante said. "If you are a victim of a terrorist act - you can sue the country responsible for that person's death."
Congress has voted to allow Americans to take legal action against countries that support terrorism. In March, the families of 800 victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks filed a lawsuit seeking to hold Saudi Arabia financially accountable.
The last chapter of this Marine's story is something his father did not live to see. But his other family - his Marine family - knows Craig Stockton has had the final word.
"If he was here now, I would say I was proud of him." Treat said. "He was a brother in the Marine Corps and he was doing his duty."