The military trial of a New York Army National Guard soldier accused of killing two officers in Iraq hit a snag today when the defense lawyers told the judge they didn’t have enough witnesses to start their case.
The judge, Col. Stephen Henley, said after a 10-minute hearing that the defense will start Wednesday. Prosecutors ended their case Monday.
Staff Sgt. Alberto Martinez, 41, of Schaghticoke, has pleaded not guilty in the deaths of Capt. Phillip Esposito, 30, of Suffern, and 1st Lt. Louis E. Allen, 34, of Milford, Pa. He faces a possible death sentence if convicted.
In the military court system, prosecutors are responsible for bringing in defense witnesses. Defense lawyers said they gave prosecutors a witness list weeks ago. It’s unclear why too few witnesses were summoned.
Defense lawyer Maj. Marc Cipriano said he anticipated about 70 witnesses, possibly fewer if the defense and prosecution agreed on the testimony some would give and eliminate the need for them to appear. Such agreements are called stipulations, and the judge told both sides to get together after he adjourned court.
Cipriano said the defense anticipated “about 10 days of witness testimony.”
“As far as not having witnesses available today is something beyond our control,” Cipriano said. “The government knew when it would rest (and) could have had witnesses here.”
No clear explanation of why witnesses weren’t available was offered during the public portion of the hearing. Cipriano said the defense gave its witness list to the government several weeks ago.
Prosecutors contend that Martinez detonated a Claymore mine in the window of the officers’ room the night of June 7, 2005, at a U.S. base near Tikrit. Many prosecution witnesses testified about the animosity Martinez expressed toward Esposito, who took over the National Guard company before it deployed.
Witnesses said Martinez, a company supply sergeant in the 42nd Infantry Division, had a hard time keeping up with equipment that flowed in for the deployment and was frustrated with Esposito’s demands to keep track of the property.
Defense lawyers contended that there is no direct evidence that links Martinez to the killing and that their client was arrested because everyone knew of his dislike for Esposito.
The final prosecution witness was another supply sergeant who said about a month or so before the deadly explosion she had given Martinez two boxes of munitions, including three mines. Staff Sgt. Amy Harlan testified that she didn’t get or ask for a receipt documenting who took the equipment, a usual military practice.
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