I had not heard of this case
Soldier pleads not guilty in fragging case
A soldier accused of killing two superior officers in Iraq, one of whom was from Suffern, pleaded not guilty yesterday.
Army Staff Sgt. Alberto Martinez entered the plea during an Article 39(a) proceeding – the equivalent of a civilian court’s pretrial hearing – at Fort Bragg, N.C.
Martinez, 40, of Troy, N.Y., is charged with two counts of premeditated murder in the June 2005 deaths of Capt. Phillip Esposito, 30, of Suffern, his company commander, and 1st Lt. Louis E. Allen, 34, of Milford, Pa., second in command of the 42nd Infantry Division’s headquarters support company in Tikrit, Iraq.
Martinez is accused of rigging and detonating a claymore mine on Esposito’s window the night of June 7, 2005. Allen was in the room with Esposito. Both men died of their injuries the next day.
Military judge Col. Stephen Henley made a number of rulings during yesterday’s hearing.
Among them, he deferred to a defense request that Martinez be moved from his current holding facility to another location, but left the final decision up to the facility commander.
The defense had argued that the suspect’s current confinement location was “suppressive,” according to a Fort Bragg media release detailing the results of the hearing.
The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer reported that Martinez’s attorneys argued their client’s solitary confinement at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C., was unduly stressful.
Henley said Martinez would get credit for time served if convicted.
The judge denied a motion by Martinez’s defense team that sought to prevent the prosecution from calling additional witnesses, and said he would allow witnesses to be called who would testify that Martinez was disrespectful and insubordinate to Esposito and Allen prior to their deaths.
He also ordered the prosecution to make deployed government witnesses available for defense interviews.
Henley asked Martinez whether he was aware of the severity of the charges and the possibility that he might face capital punishment if convicted. Martinez confirmed that understood.
Martinez’s defense team then entered the plea of not guilty.
The plea represents progress, said Barbara Allen, Louis Allen’s widow. She and Siobhan Esposito, the captain’s widow, and several other family members were present for the hearing.
“It’s really nice to know that he had to enter a plea, and that means there’s no turning back now; we’re actually going to trial,” Allen said.
The case has had many delays, and Siobhan Esposito said it had been “a long and difficult ordeal” for both families.
“Now it is quite apparent that we are going to trial. For a long time I was doubtful (about) when we would go to trial,” Esposito said.
The next pretrial hearing is set for Oct. 6, with the court-martial to begin the following day. The trial could last through Dec. 31.
Barbara Allen said she was “very, very glad” about the way the case was proceeding. As for the results of the trial, Allen said: “The eventual outcome needs to be the death penalty. That’s what needs to happen.”
The two officers’ deaths are considered by the military to be the first “fragging” incident since the U.S. invaded Iraq. Fragging is military slang for intentionally killing another service member.
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