A military court held another pre-trial motions hearing Wednesday on Fort Stewart for the trial of Spc. Neftaly Platero, the 3rd Infantry Division soldier accused of killing two of his fellow soldiers and severely wounding another Sept. 23, 2010, at Camp Fallujah, Iraq.
Several motions were considered by the court, which is led by military judge Lt. Col. Tiernan Dolan. The motions considered included defense motions for additional witnesses, a request for expert assistance to be provided by the government and a motion to exclude several photographs the government wants to use to prosecute its case against Platero. The government’s only motion request was to ask the court to examine Platero’s mental-health records, which previously had been sealed.
The defense team, which consists of Maj. Paul Butler, Maj. Greg Malson and civilian attorney Guy Womack, argued for additional character witnesses. Womack explained the defense is willing to agree to the government’s witness list but said the defense also would like to name each witness it would like to call from that list, in case the government choses not to call all those on its list.
The government team, which consists of Maj. Stefan Wolfe, Capt. Frank Kostik and Capt. Brett Lamborn, argued that some of the witnesses the defense wants to call have nothing to add to the testimony of other “merit” witnesses, although their testimony might be relevant for sentencing. The government also said at least three witnesses the defense is asking for are not on the government’s list.
Wolfe referenced a previous military trial in which a request for additional witnesses was denied when the witnesses’ testimony was deemed “cumulative” and did not add to previous testimony. Butler countered, saying the government was reading that case “too rigidly,” adding it was not too much to ask the court for the additional witnesses, given the sentence the accused is facing — life without the possibility of parole.
The defense’s request for the government to provide expert assistance hinged on a misunderstanding by the government of the court’s order to provide that assistance by Feb. 3. With the deadline now past but the court’s intentions understood, Dolan said he would set a new deadline and expects it to be followed.
The defense objected to the government’s request about mental-health records, saying there is no evidence in the records relevant to the case. However, the government said it couldn’t take the defense’s assessment of those records as fact, and since the records were sealed by the court, they asked the court to review them. The court and the defense agreed. Dolan said he’ll give a written report when he has reviewed the records.
The final motions heard were regarding photos the government wants to use that the defense claims are “inflammatory” and not relevant to the case. A few photos were shown in the courtroom, including photos of one of the victims. The defense argued that several pictures of the same victim are not necessary, but the government argued some photos show an up-close view of the victim’s wounds while another shows the victim at a distance, where smoke still could be seen hanging in the air, presumably from gunshots.
A photo of the other victim apparently proved too graphic to show to the courtroom and was shown directly to Dolan. Defense argued that the picture is too inflammatory, but the government said the picture is necessary because it shows the type of footwear on the victim’s feet. They were shower shoes.
Kostik argued that since the victim was wearing shower shoes, it proves he was about to take a shower and get ready for bed — a “non-aggressive posture.” Dolan said he would disallow that particular photo — for now — unless or until the government could show relevance of the victim’s shower shoes to its case.
Before recessing the court to discuss the court schedule with the counselors in his chambers, Dolan told the defense and government to work out details about presentation of the autopsy photos during the trial. The next scheduled motions hearing is April 11.