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Daily Column
US Papers Sat: G.I. Cleared After Guilty Plea
Staff Sgt Found Not Guilty of "Fragging" Two Officers Had Confessed Guilt
By DANIEL W. SMITH 02/21/2009 02:00 AM ET
The only Iraq-related stories in the US papers with Saturday editions concern prosecutions of US servicemen. The Washington Post covers a U.S. Army medic convicted of murder for his role in the execution-style slayings of four bound and blindfolded Iraqi detainees, but it is something they picked up from AP. For original material, there is just the New York Times.

Military Matters
On the front page of the Times, Paul von Zielbauer writes from the states about curious elements in a case of fragging, which had an unexpected outcome. The military court’s not guilty decision was handed to Staff Sgt. Alberto B. Martinez of the New York Army National Guard on Dec. 4, and he was honorably discharged last month, so at first, it is hard to figure out what the news is.

Zielbauer covered the case in June, in an article that leaves seems to leave little doubt that Sergeant Martinez was guilty of detonating a Claymore mine he had placed at the window of Capt. Phillip Esposito, with whom he had personal problems, at a forward operating base in Tikrit. The explosion caused the death of Esposito and First Lt. Lou Allen. The current article is much clearer after reading the previous one.

Zielbauer states that the New York Times obtained documents that show that more than two years before the trial, Sergeant Martinez signed an offer to plead guilty to the murder charges, came “after he and his lawyer learned that a soldier had admitted that weeks before the deaths, she had given him Claymore mines that her unit, about to return home, no longer needed.”

The prosecutors’ sought the death penalty, and both the guilty plea and the judge’s rejection of the guilty plea seem to hinge on this. Sergeant Martinez appears to have signed the plea in order to avoid the death sentence and be sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole, and thereby avoid the death penalty. Also...
Major Benson, the Army prosecutor in the case, said several factors could have swayed the jury in the sergeant’s favor. “A strong opposition to death penalty was a definite factor among some of the panel members,” he said. “It’s quite possible that they were not able to separate the conviction from the punishment.”
A former Marine judge said the rejection of the plea offer was unusual. “The only reason you should turn this down is if you have an absolutely bulletproof case,” he said. “I can’t imagine why they didn’t take it. You’ve got life in prison in hand.”

Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, no Saturday Editions.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at ds@iraqslogger.com

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