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Defense wants expert to visit crime scene in Iraq
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In a motion hearing Tuesday, Sgt. Joseph Bozicevich‘s defense attorneys requested their expert investigator be allowed to travel to Iraq to reinvestigate the crime scene and interview 16 Iraqi soldiers. Bozicevich’s military defense attorney, Capt. Nick Moutos, said the defense team would be “remiss” in its duty to defend a man “whose life was on the line” if they did not verify evidence and testimony gathered by the government’s Criminal Investigation Division.
Government attorney Maj. Scott Ford said the defense was simply “on a fishing expedition.”
Bozicevich is charged with two counts of pre-meditated murder in the deaths of Staff Sgt. Darris Dawson, 24, of Pensacola, Fla., and Sgt. Wesley Durbin, 26, of Dallas, Texas. Bozicevich is accused of shooting and killing the two men on Sept. 14, 2008, while deployed to a base south of Baghdad, Iraq. All three soldiers were assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd ID.
Government attorneys argued the defense does not need to travel to Iraq. The three Iraqi soldiers who testified at the Article 32 hearing, and 13 “canvas” witnesses, could be interviewed over the telephone or via video conferencing, they said.
The prosecution also pointed out the joint patrol base where the shooting occurred has been physically altered since the U.S. Army turned it over to the Iraqi government in November 2008, and cited security concerns with the continued drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq.
Military Judge Col. Tara Osborn promised to “rule quickly” on the motion, and recessed the court until Oct. 21. The court martial is set to begin Feb. 7, 2011.
Randy Price, expert investigator for the defense, described CID’s initial investigation as “sloppy at best.”
Price, a retired Springfield, Mo., police officer and CSI, said he wants to interview the three primary witnesses in their country, “in a less stressful environment.” He can then observe their facial expressions and body language and possibly identify additional witnesses, he said. The expert investigator has been paid $80,000 since his services were contracted in February.
Staff Sgt. Marcus Coe was called by government attorneys to illustrate how the physical configuration of the base has changed, thus implying crime scene evidence has either been diminished or destroyed since CID’s initial investigation. Coe, who was deployed from October 2007 to October 2008 with the 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 4th BCT to Iraq, said most of the patrol base’s U.S. structures have been moved or removed over the past two years.
“They’re like Legos, sir,” he said.
The defense conceded the U.S. portion of the joint base may have changed, but retorted the shooting occurred outside of the Iraqi police station on the Iraqi portion of the base which is still intact. Moutos said the defense should have the opportunity to reinvestigate the crime scene in Iraq even if an empty “perimeter” was all that was left.
Government attorneys telephoned Maj. Michael Banks with the 3rd Heavy Combat Brigade’s judge advocate office in southern Iraq to testify about the diplomatic and logistical difficulties of arranging for interviews with Iraqi witnesses.
Banks said requests for interviews with Iraqi soldiers must follow the Iraqi army’s chain of command; the U.S. military does not have the authority to compel Iraqi nationals to testify. Banks added arranging security for the defense team would, in effect, put American soldiers at risk. Soldiers would have to be pulled from other areas leaving those locations less secure, he said.
Banks also stressed the defense would likely have a difficult time locating Iraqi soldiers to testify.
“The Iraqi army does not keep as good records as we do,” he said.
Moutos said despite any hurdles the defense would face in re-investigating the case, they owe it to their client to try; and it is the government’s duty to ensure due process.
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