After a two-day delay, the capital murder court-martial hearing of Sgt. Joseph Bozicevich began with opening statements Wednesday morning on Fort Stewart.
Bozicevich is charged with two counts of pre-meditated murder for killing Staff Sgt. Darris Dawson and Sgt. Wesley Durbin on Sept. 14, 2008, after the two had given him verbal counsel following earlier incidents in which Bozicevich reportedly had committed errors while on patrol duty at Jurf As Sakhr patrol base south of Baghdad, Iraq.
Bozicevich, 41, of Minneapolis has pleaded not guilty.
The trial is expected to last several months, according to Fort Stewart spokesman Kevin Larson.
“It’s going to be five days a week,” Larson said of the trial proceedings. “(But) they are going through their witnesses quicker than anticipated. If a conviction of guilt is unanimous, only then is capital punishment possible. For capital punishment to be given, the sentencing has to be unanimous, too.”
On Wednesday, Maj. Andy McKee, the lead prosecutor, started his opening remarks with a shockingly loud proclamation that jolted nearly every person in the room.
“(Expletive), I’m going to kill you!” McKee shouted, relaying to the jury what other witnesses claim they heard Bozicevich scream as he allegedly shot 27 bullets at his squad leader, Dawson, 24, and another soldier, Durbin, 26.
McKee said Bozicevich also had been heard ordering other soldiers to “just shoot me; just kill me” as they restrained him. The conflict reportedly began in the joint security station building but spilled outside as Bozicevich shot Durbin and then chased Dawson, who ran from the room.
Several of the victims’ family members were called to the stand to testify, including Durbin’s mother, Carole Durbin, and Dawson’s grandmother, Shirley Williams. Other family members in the courtroom grasped tissues, wore the deceased soldiers’ identification tags and carried purses made of Army combat uniforms that were stitched with the soldiers’ names.
Spc. Michael Duncan, a medic on duty the day the murders were committed, described what he saw Sept. 14. That evening, Duncan said he was playing Guitar Hero when he heard the sound of gunshots rip through the air.
At first, he thought it was someone hammering on a metal roof, but when a second series of shots rang out, Duncan got dressed and dashed out the door.
When asked how he could remember such details, he replied, “It’s just burned into my mind.”
Duncan reached Dawson first, who he said had fallen on the ground after being shot in the back of the leg while running away from Bozicevich.
“I heard him say, ‘He shot me. Boz shot me,’” Duncan, 21, recalled. While working on Dawson, Duncan said he saw other soldiers restrain Bozicevich, who was laughing and acting “arrogant and triumphant.”
The medic then ran into another building where others claimed another American had been shot. He said he found Durbin lying in a puddle of blood and battery acid, which had leaked from a car battery that had been hit by a stray bullet, Duncan said.
Duncan was unable to save Durbin, even after administering CPR. Durbin was not armed with a weapon when he was shot.
Bozicevich’s civilian defense attorney, Charles Gittens, repeatedly cross-examined and challenged those who came before the panel of 13 jury members. He questioned whether some of the finer details, such as the way Bozicevich reportedly laughed, may have faded from witnesses’ minds since the event.
To demonstrate consistency in the testimonies, witnesses were asked to verify various locations on the base where the events reportedly happened by circling places on a mapped aerial photograph displayed on a screen for jurors, attorneys and others to see.
The questions and photo verifications continued Thursday morning when the hearing reconvened.
Several others on scene, including Bozicevich’s staff sergeant, were questioned by the defense and prosecution about shooting details.
The staff sergeant testified that Bozicevich was someone who often was “stubborn” and would claim he “didn’t understand” an order if he didn’t agree with it.
Each witness was shown photographs of the crime scene, including where the bodies of the soldiers lie after they were gunned down. Family members turned their tear-streaked faces from the screen as witnesses described the exact position the bodies were in when they were found.
Proceedings are expected to continue at 9 a.m. Monday on Fort Stewart.
Bozicevich is being held at the Liberty County Jail in between trial proceedings, Larson said.