An Army sergeant facing a possible death sentence wept Tuesday as he told a court-martial that he killed two fellow U.S. soldiers in self-defense, insisting he fired his rifle blindly while trying to escape after they threatened him with guns aimed at his head.
"I sprayed and I prayed," Sgt. Joseph Bozicevich testified in his court martial on Fort Stewart as he recalled the September 2008 shootings at a small patrol base in Iraq. "I did what I had to do to defend myself."
Bozicevich's attorney, meanwhile, told a 12-member military jury that the accused soldier suffered mental delusions that played a role in the killings of his squad leader, Staff Sgt. Darris Dawson of Pensacola, Fla., and Sgt. Wesley Durbin of Dallas.
More than two years after the slayings, Bozicevich's courtroom testimony marked the first time anyone has heard the 41-year-old infantry soldier's version on what preceded the slayings.
Prosecutors say 41-year-old Bozicevich of Minneapolis opened fire on the men in anger after they critiqued him for blunders during the course of his duties. They were writing up Bozicevich for losing a grenade, losing his direction during a march and leaving behind a fellow soldier on a foot patrol.
Bozicevich said there's more to the story. He testified both men confronted him alone inside the base's communications station, showed him the paperwork and ordered him to sign. Bozicevich said he refused, worried that he'd lose his rank if he signed the papers. His refusal, he said, caused Durbin and Dawson to draw their rifles and aim at his head.
From that point, the accused soldier's story takes a turn into full-blown conspiracy.
He said Durbin told him, "I know how to kill you and get away with it and Dawson gloated: "Your career is over. We got you."
"Who is we? The Black Masons?" Bozicevich said he replied.
He testified that Dawson confirmed his suspicion, saying, "We Masons do what we want to do."
Charles Gittins, Bozicevich's civilian defense attorney, told the 12-member military jury in an opening statement Tuesday before Bozicevich testified that a psychiatrist will testify the soldier suffers from mental delusions - including feelings that people are out to get him.
"Sgt. Bozicevich's delusions relate to his belief that the senior NCOs (noncommissioned officers) were out to get him," Gittins said. "He would honestly believe that his life was in mortal danger."
No one else was in the room with Bozicevich, Dawson and Durbin when the fighting broke out. Bozicevich was the only one to survive their confrontation.
He told jurors that he managed to disarm both men with martial-arts moves that knocked their rifles to the floor and swept Durbin's legs out from beneath him - a series of quick hand jabs that Bozicevich demonstrated in the courtroom.
Bozicevich said he grabbed his own rifle and ran out the same door where Dawson had just fled. As he tried to escape, Bozicevich said, Dawson ambushed him outside by throwing sand in his face and kicking him in the groin.
Bozicevich said he was blinded and could barely breathe. When Dawson pulled away after a brief scuffle, Bozicevich said he raised his rifle and started firing bursts of bullets.
He said he then stood up, cleared his eyes and saw the door to the communication station starting to open with a gun barrel poking through. Figuring Durbin was behind the door, Bozicevich said, he fired several shots inside.
He said he then saw a silhouetted figure lying on the ground pointing a rifle toward him. Bozicevich said he ran toward the figure, firing his own gun. He insisted he ran out of ammo before he came up on the figure and saw Dawson wounded and bleeding.
"I just remember him crying and saying, 'I'm sorry, Sgt. Bozicevich. Please don't kill me.'"
Other soldiers in the infantry unit have testified they saw Bozicevich chasing Dawson and firing. One witness said he saw Bozicevich stand over the mortally wounded soldier and shoot him again.