With the March 28 start date of Sgt. Joseph Bozicevich’s court martial growing closer, the court cleared up several matters regarding panel selection, the potential bias of a key witness and additional funding for experts Friday during a motion hearing. Opening statements in the death-penalty case will be given April 18.
Bozicevich is charged with two counts of premeditated murder in the deaths of Staff Sgt. Darris Dawson and Sgt. Wesley Durbin. The Fort Stewart soldier is accused of shooting and killing the two men Sept. 14, 2008, while deployed to a base south of Baghdad, Iraq. All three men were assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division.
Bozicevich’s defense attorneys also hinted they may call into question their client’s mental health at the time of the shooting. Both defense and government attorneys each have a psychologist and psychiatrist lined up as expert witnesses.
“In this case, we clearly have mental health issues,” military defense attorney Capt. Nick Moutos said.
Military Judge Col. Tara Osborn ruled she would allow the defense and the government one additional pre-emptory challenge each, meaning each side could dismiss one potential juror without cause. Her ruling followed the defense’s request for additional pre-emptory challenges.
Bozicevich’s civilian defense attorney, Charles Gittins, argued the panel (jury) was “rank heavy,” meaning senior commissioned and noncommissioned officers tended to be more conservative in their views and more likely to sentence Bozicevich to death should he be found guilty.
Government attorney Maj. Scott Ford disagreed. Ford said senior ranking officers and NCOs likely would be more open-minded than lower ranking jurors because they were experienced professionals and better educated.
In addition, defense and government attorneys sparred over whether one of the government’s key witnesses, Army Sgt. 1st Class John Dresel, was biased. The debate revolved around whether or not Dresel perceived he was immune from any punishment incurred by his own misconduct because he was a federal witness. Dresel was arrested by the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office in 2009 on an aggravated stalking charge and had a number of restraining orders filed against him.
Government attorney Maj. Scott Ford said Dresel’s supposed bias based on a comment he allegedly made to a Liberty County jailer was a moot point, because the disorderly charge against him had been dropped. Dresel reportedly told a jailer he was a federal witness and therefore would soon be released, according to the defense. The government countered that Dresel knew he would be released because the charge against him was to be dropped.
In a previous hearing, government and defense attorneys had argued over whether Dresel might “fabricate” details of the shooting when called to the stand.
Judge Osborn ruled Dresel’s arrest reports and traffic citations would be admissible in court. However, she cautioned defense attorneys to tailor their questions when they cross-examine Dresel.
“I do not want to have a mini-trial within a trial,” Osborn said.
Defense attorneys also had requested additional funding for a jury consultant in the amount of $19,109 and for work by a crime scene reconstruction company in the amount of $51,645.