After a monthlong delay, the sentencing phase in a Fort Stewart soldier’s murder trial began Monday with tearful testimony from one of the victim’s mothers. Sentencing is expected to be completed today or tomorrow, according to Fort Stewart spokesman Kevin Larson.
Sentencing for Sgt. Joseph Bozicevich was rescheduled in late June after his lead defense attorney, Charles Gittins, was injured in a skydiving accident.
Bozicevich, 41, was found guilty May 25 of two charges of pre-meditated murder in the deaths of Staff Sgt. Darris Dawson and Sgt. Wesley Durbin. He was convicted of shooting and killing the two men Sept. 14, 2008, while deployed to Patrol Base Jurf at Sahkr, Iraq. All three soldiers were assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division.
“Sgt. Bozicevich faces either life in prison with parole or life in prison without parole,” Larson said.
The actual trial began in early May, after nearly two years of pretrial hearings. Bozicevich pleaded not guilty in late March.
Family members of the victims, Durbin and Dawson, sat in the gallery behind government attorneys, and Bozicevich’s relatives filled seats behind the defense.
Durbin’s mother, Carole Durbin, patted her husband, Randy Durbin, on the back, whispering, “We’ve come this far, we’re almost done,” before the trial resumed.
Carole Durbin was called to the stand to testify about the kind of person her son was and how his death had affected her and the rest of the family.
Photographs of Sgt. Durbin were displayed on two screens as his mother answered government attorney Maj. Andy McKee’s questions. The late Durbin was shown at age 10 with the family’s pastor during his confirmation in the Lutheran Church, standing next to his mother in his high school baseball uniform, posed with his parents and brother on a Colorado ski slope and as a Marine deployed to Iraq soon after the Iraq war began.
Carole Durbin described her son as determined and straightforward.
“He just persevered,” she said. The bereaved mother spoke of her son’s multiple surgeries during his childhood, how he nearly died at age 8 when he fell from some monkey bars and ruptured his spleen. At age 24, her son had a golf ball-sized, benign tumor removed from his hip, Durbin recalled.
“He shaped the obstacles in his life with his personality rather than letting the obstacles change him,” she said.
The soft-spoken woman spoke of a son who was an excellent student in high school, who was offered scholarships and chose to join the Marines, and later the Army. Sgt. Durbin was discharged from the Marines in 2005. He joined the Army in 2006 and was deployed to Iraq in 2007.
Gittins objected when McKee asked Durbin to testify about her son’s friend Jeff Green who died in combat and Sgt. Durbin’s first deployment to Iraq as a Marine. These situations occurred prior to the crime of which his client was found guilty and should be considered irrelevant, according to Gittins.
McKee also asked Durbin to describe the day the family received the news of her son’s death. Durbin said the knock at the door she had always feared came three years ago.
“It was Sunday and we were having a little breakfast before church,” Durbin recalled. She said they then got a call from a family member saying her son had been shot. They didn’t want to believe the news, as it had not been confirmed. Then the doorbell rang.
When they saw two men in uniform at the door, they knew the dreadful had happened, Durbin said.
“We were told another soldier had shot him,” she said. “We all went silent. It was like the air had just been sucked out of the room.”
Durbin told the court the next time she saw her son was when he returned to the United States in a flag-draped coffin.
At McKee’s gentle questioning, she told the court how her son’s murder affected her and her family.
“I cry a lot,” Durbin said. “I grieve for my son. It’s affected me and my husband in every way possible.”
Durbin said she has lost weight and takes medication for anxiety. Her husband, who she described as having been “an extremely confident person” has had to take medication for depression, she said.
Durbin also said her younger son Kenneth, daughter-in-law Brandi and step-granddaughter Pamara all were adversely affected by her son’s murder.
Mckee asked Durbin what she missed most about her son.
“His voice,” she answered. “I miss hearing his voice.”