A Fort Stewart soldier accused of murder testified he shot his former squad leader and team leader in self-defense because he feared for his life.
Sgt. Joseph Bozicevich, 41, is charged with two counts of pre-meditated murder in the deaths of Staff Sgt. Darris Dawson and Sgt. Wesley Durbin. He is accused of murdering the two men three years ago while deployed to Patrol Base Jurf at Sahkr, Iraq. All three men were assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division.
In the defense’s opening statements Tuesday, Bozicevich’s civilian attorney, Charles Gittins, said his client “honestly believed his life was in danger,” and said the defendant had been diagnosed by a psychiatrist with a delusional disorder. This mental-health diagnosis meant Bozicevich was paranoid and “believed people were out to get him,” according to Gittins.
The defense attorney told the court the defense also would call witnesses to testify about the “haphazard” crime-scene investigation and the accused’s past paranoid behavior.
Gittins also showed the court photographs of Bozicevich’s face covered with cuts and bruises, allegedly received from the sergeant’s fellow soldiers beating him immediately after the shootings.
Bozicevich entered a not-guilty plea in late March.
Gittins called Bozicevich to the stand to walk him through his version of events that led to the shooting Sept. 14, 2008. Bozicevich recounted how Durbin and Dawson each held a gun to his head and threatened to kill him unless he signed three counseling statements he’d been given.
“Durbin said, ‘Boz, Boz, if you don’t sign those damn forms by the time I count to five I’ll blow your (expletive) head off,’” Bozicevich testified. And according to Bozicevich, Dawson told him, “Your career is over. We got you.”
Bozicevich had been criticized by his superiors for his poor performance in the field, including losing a grenade and for leaving another soldier behind on a patrol.
“I had to get out of there (the joint security station building) to escape,” the defendant said. “I had to get to the American side to get help.”
He said he swept Durbin and Dawson’s gun muzzles away and ran out of the joint security station. Bozicevich had testified he was trained in martial arts. Dawson allegedly had fled the room before he had run out, Bozicevich said.
Once outside, the defendant said sand was thrown in his face and he felt a kick to the groin. Blinded and struggling to breathe, he managed to raise his weapon and fire. “I sprayed and I prayed. I did what I had to do to defend myself,” Bozicevich told the court.
He said he then wiped the sand from his face and with his right eye saw the muzzle of a gun pointed at him from inside the door to the joint security station. Bozicevich said he went to the doorframe and fired to clear the room.
“I had no idea he (Durbin) was around the corner,” the defendant said. “I had no idea I shot him until later.”
Bozicevich said he again ran outside “to make a break for it,” when he saw a silhouetted figure on the ground, holding a rifle. He claims he did not know it was Dawson.
“I just saw a rifle being readied to use against me,” he said. The defendant claimed he had run out of ammunition by the time he ran up to Dawson.
Other soldiers previously had testified they saw Bozicevich stand over Dawson and saw him shoot the wounded man.
Bozicevich appeared agitated at times when government attorney Capt. Jacqueline Grieser cross-examined him.
Gittins objected to several of Grieser’s questions, citing “improper character impeachment” and said her questioning incidents that took place prior to the shootings was irrelevant to the case. Grieser told the judge she was attempting to show Bozicevich had experienced career frustrations and understood what his options in the Army were.
Fort Stewart spokesman Kevin Larson said he expected the trial to continue Wednesday.