By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Plateros murder trial hinges on motion
Defense claims unlawful command influence of key witnesses
Placeholder Image

Foremost among the motions addressed during Friday and Saturday’s pretrial hearing for Spc. Neftaly Platero, who faces a court-martial on charges of premeditated murder, was a defense request for dismissal of all charges.

Foremost among the motions addressed during Friday and Saturday’s pretrial hearing for Spc. Neftaly Platero, who faces a court-martial on charges of premeditated murder, was a defense request for dismissal of all charges.

It was based on the defense’s assertion that statements by Lt. Col. Jeffrey Shoemaker, then-commander of the 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, resulted in unlawful command influence of key witnesses.

Platero’s defense team — Maj. Paul Butler, civilian attorney Guy Womack and Maj. Greg Malson — argued before military judge Lt. Col. Tiernan Dolan that Shoemaker had "dressed down" Platero while he was being detained in Camp Fallujah’s Base Defense Operations Center following the Sept. 23, 2010, shooting in which two of Platero’s roommates, Pfc. Gebrah Noonan and Spc. John Carrillo Jr., were killed and another roommate, Pfc. Jeffrey Shonk, was shot in the leg and forehead. The defense contended that Shoemaker’s remarks in the BDOC "went too far" and prejudiced future witnesses against their client.

The government (prosecution) team — Maj. Stefan Wolfe, Capt. Frank Kostik and Capt. Brett Lamborn — contended that Shoemaker’s comments had no "pernicious effect," stating that Shoemaker and Platero’s exchange was barely 30 seconds long, that most of the other soldiers close enough to hear the exchange had come with Shoemaker from Camp Ramadi and that no witnesses have refused to testify.

The government called several witnesses to support its own motions as well as respond to the defense’s request for dismissal based on the UCI allegation. The defense called only one witness, Platero’s former team leader, Sgt. John Miller, who had been evacuated for a medical emergency several days before the shootings.

During his testimony, Miller claimed that while serving with the rear detachment, he had been discouraged from talking to the judge advocate general’s office, although he admitted he was permitted to do so without regard to whether he was going to speak to the defense or prosecution. He also claimed he feared retribution by his chain of command for testifying at the hearing, which led to the defense to ask for a protection order.

The government’s cross-examination of Miller noted that he had testified three times against his chain of command in previous soldier-related hearings and that he was found to have lied to fellow soldiers and leaders about how he lost one of his fingers, which resulted in his dismissal from an explosive ordnance school and possibly a cause for his drill instruction packet being "pulled."

The defense claimed Miller’s testimony was evidence the atmosphere in the unit was tainted against their client by the former battalion commander, but the government contended that Miller was not a credible witness due to his history of contention with his chain of command and someone "with a chip on his shoulder."

The government’s key witness was Staff Sgt. Jhamaal Martin, Platero’s supervisor at the time of the shootings, who said that earlier during the evening of the shootings, he had accompanied Platero to his room in response to his claim that his roommates were causing him to live in "filthy" conditions.

Martin admitted the room was dirty and in need of cleaning but not filthy. He said he thought Platero was overreacting. Later that evening while he was taking a cigarette break, Martin said he heard gunshots close by and immediately rushed to Platero’s quarters.

"When I came in the hallway, I saw Sam, the interpreter, on top of Platero, and I said, ‘Sam, why are you fighting with one of my soldiers?’" Martin explained. "Sam said, ‘It’s not me, sergeant. He’s the bad guy.’"

Martin testified that when he entered Platero’s room, he found Noonan on the floor with his eyes rolled back in his head. He could see Carrillo stretched out across his bunk and could hear music coming from his iPod. As he rushed closer to assist him, he said he could hear a gurgling sound coming from Carrillo’s chest. At that time, Shonk sat up in his bunk and called to him.

"He said, ‘Sergeant, my leg,’" Martin said. "I could see blood on his leg and a gash on the side of his head. I kept saying, ‘What the (explicative)?’"

Martin said he heard Platero shouting from the hallway, "They were going to kill me," a statement both the defense and government agreed later not to include as testimony for being "an excited utterance." Martin said that as he continued to ask what happened, Shonk said, "He shot us. Platero shot us." During a telephone interview with Shonk, who is still in a military hospital, he said he did not remember making that statement. He also said he didn’t remember being shot.

A motion by the defense to disallow Martin’s claim that Shonk had identified Platero as the shooter as another excited utterance was refuted by the government, which contended that Shonk’s statement was actually the last words of a dying man, based on the Article 32 hearing testimony of the attending physician at the time of the shootings, who said he thought Shonk was not going to make it.

Only a few of the motions heard during Friday’s hearing were resolved, and the results of Saturday’s hearing were not available by press time.

Sign up for our e-newsletters