The murder trial of Fort Stewart soldier Sgt. Joseph Bozicevich was interrupted this week when the defense requested a mistrial because the prosecution failed to share information with them concerning Staff Sgt. Darris Dawson, one of the victims in the case.
Military Judge Col. Tara Osborn denied the motion for mistrial late Friday, ruling that information about a 2004 altercation that might have involved a gun was inadmissible, according to Fort Stewart spokesman Kevin Larson.
The spokesman said Osborn reprimanded the prosecution and labeled their failure to disclose the new information as “gross misconduct.”
The judge reasoned that the new information also would confuse the jury, according to Larson, and added that the accused, Bozicevich, had no knowledge of the alleged incident, which took place four years before the shootings.
Osborn will issue a written ruling Monday, when the trial resumes, according to Larson.
Bozicevich, 41, of Minneapolis, Minn., is charged with two counts of pre-meditated murder in the deaths of Dawson and Sgt. Wesley Durbin. He is accused of shooting and killing the two men Sept. 14, 2008, while all three were deployed to Patrol Base Jurf at Sahkr, Iraq.
Dawson’s widow, Latasha Dawson, allegedly told Capt. Amanda Presser, the government’s victim witness liaison, about a previously undisclosed 2004 domestic-violence incident that might have involved a gun. Presser testified that she telephoned Dawson on May 7, the conversation lasting 18 minutes.
Lead prosecutor Maj. Andy McKee had instructed Presser to call Dawson for clarification about a July 2006 domestic-violence report. That report alleges that Latasha Dawson’s late husband had entered his then-estranged wife’s home and choked her for 10 minutes.
Presser said she then called McKee, who took the call while at his daughter’s birthday party.
McKee admitted to the court he did not immediately act on information alleging that the late Dawson may have threatened his then-girlfriend, Latasha McClellan, with a gun at a Flash Foods convenience store at the intersection of Highway 84 and Gen. Screven Way.
“There’s no excuse,” McKee said.
The choking incident properly was disclosed to the defense in October 2010, he testified.
Government attorneys did not disclose the alleged gun incident to the defense until May 11. The defense had presented opening statements May 10.
The defense motioned for a mistrial, the fifth in the course of the case, on the grounds of prosecutorial misconduct. Bozicevich’s civilian defense attorney, Charles Gittins, told the court the defense team would have changed its strategy to “straight-up self-defense” had they been notified about the alleged gun incident last weekend.
The defense presented a mixed strategy of self-defense and mental illness, claiming Bozicevich was diagnosed by a psychiatrist as having a delusional disorder that causes him to be paranoid.
Gittins said information of the gun incident was significant because it showed the late Dawson was a violent individual. If Dawson was inclined to pull a gun on his wife when angry, then it was conceivable he could point a rifle at Bozicevich, he said. Earlier this week, the defense claimed the accused had been physically threatened by Dawson and Durbin and, fearing for his life, shot the two men.
The prosecution responded that when they further investigated the 2004 incident, they found no evidence of a gun.
Government attorneys called the late Dawson’s friend, Lawrence Gaillard, to the stand, and then his widow, Latasha Dawson, to testify about the 2004 altercation at the convenience store.
Gaillard said neither he nor the late Dawson had a gun that day. He said when his car was stopped and searched at Fort Stewart’s front gate, no weapon was found.
Latasha Dawson testified that she never had spoken about an incident involving a gun before May 7. She told the court that when she arrived at the convenience store to meet her husband, they argued and then he grabbed her neck and pulled her over to Gaillard’s open car trunk.
“I wasn’t sure what he was going to do,” she said, in response to Gittin’s questions. “It could have been a gun; it could have been a crowbar.”
Dawson also told the court she did not actually see a gun and said it was the convenience-store clerk who told police that her late husband had held a gun to her head.