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Soldier murder trial goes to the jury

Defense, government present closing arguments

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POSTED: May 25, 2011 9:20 a.m.
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Sgt. Joseph Bozicevich

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Lines were clearly drawn in a military courtroom Tuesday as a Fort Stewart soldier’s murder trial drew closer to a verdict.

Family members of the late Staff Sgt. Darris Dawson and Sgt. Wesley Durbin, along with soldiers from the victims’ former unit, the 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, sat behind government attorneys. A smaller number of people, including defendant Sgt. Joseph Bozicevich’s somber relatives, sat behind the accused and his defense team. There were nervous whispers exchanged, some spectators’ faces alternating between expressions of sadness and relief before the judge and jury entered. 

Defense and prosecuting attorneys then came out swinging as they presented closing arguments. Both sides attempted to poke holes in the other’s witness testimony and analyses of physical evidence, each offering a compelling yet completely opposite version of events.

Bozicevich’s civilian defense attorney, Charles Gittins, told jurors they had to prove Bozicevich, 41, was guilty of premeditated murder “beyond a reasonable doubt” or had to acquit. Gittins reminded the jury that military Judge Col. Tara Osborn also had instructed them on a number of lesser charges. If jurors do not find Bozicevich guilty of premeditated murder, they could consider the lesser charges of unpremeditated murder, voluntary or involuntary manslaughter.

Gittins also stressed that the jury had to disprove the Sept. 14, 2008, shooting deaths were in self-defense.

Gittins argued that Bozicevich, diagnosed with a delusional disorder, was paranoid and feared for his life following a tense, late-night counseling session with Dawson and Durbin. This counseling session was deliberately held in an “isolated” joint security station building, away from the other American soldiers, he said. Gittins displayed a sterile black and white illustration showing two soldiers, presumably Dawson and Durbin, aiming rifles at an unarmed soldier, presumably the accused. Bozicevich is accused of shooting and killing the two men while all three were deployed to Patrol Base Jurf at Sahkr, Iraq.

In addition, Gittins called the crime scene investigation “criminally negligent,” claiming fingerprints were not preserved, soldiers who had handled or cleared weapons were not identified and bullet trajectories were not properly measured.

Government attorney Maj. Scott Ford said because Bozicevich “chose to kill” rather than to put his weapon down, run away or withdraw from the situation at any point and “didn’t stop until he was tackled,” self-defense was disproven. Ford added that Bozicevich’s actions and words, showing defiance, laughing and begging for fellow soldiers to kill him after the shootings, was not the way a solider defending himself would act. He also argued that for Bozicevich to show premeditation, all he had to do was “intend to kill and think about what he had to do to kill.”

The prosecution argued that the middle-aged Bozicevich was angry about receiving three counseling statements from Durbin and Dawson and was bitter about the 24-year-old Durbin being placed above him in a leadership position.
“This is nothing different than a workplace shooting. This is nothing exotic,” Ford said.

Bozicevich could face the death penalty if the jury of 12 commissioned and non-commissioned officers finds him guilty of premeditated murder. He entered a not-guilty plea in March. 

The jury began deliberations late Tuesday afternoon following closing arguments. A verdict was not reached by press time.

 

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