Testimony continues in case of two officers killed in Iraq
October 28, 2008
FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Army News Service, Oct. 28, 2008) - Claymore mine fragments were among evidence introduced Monday at Fort Bragg in the court-martial of Staff Sgt. Alberto Martinez, charged with murdering two officers in Iraq.
Martinez is charged with violation of Article 118 and two specifications of premeditated murder in the deaths of Capt. Phillip T. Esposito and Lt. Louis E. Allen, 42nd Infantry Division, They died following explosions June 7, 2005, at Forward Operating Base Danger, near Tikrit, Iraq.
Maj. John Benson from the prosecution team called the first witness, David Wentzel, who was a maintenance section staff sergeant at FOB Danger for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 42nd Inf. Div. He testified that Martinez and Esposito did not get along. Wentzel remembered Martinez saying, "I can't wait for him to get his," but didn't inform Esposito or anyone else in his chain of command about the statement.
The prosecution asked Wentzel to recall what he experienced the night of the incident. Around 10 p.m. while in the shower trailer brushing his teeth, Wentzel said he heard the first two explosions, which he thought was a mortar attack. Wenzel said he grabbed the sink to hold on, noticed the shower trailer walls were collapsing, and ran outside to seek safety in a concrete structure across the street.
Wentzel said he heard a third explosion once he left the shower trailer. Wentzel said he saw movement from an object in the middle of the street, refocused and noticed it was a Soldier. He said he told the Soldier to seek cover, but it appeared the individual was unresponsive or shell-shocked. Wentzel said he approached the Soldier and realized it was Martinez. Wentzel said Martinez was shaking, not speaking, and looking from side-to-side, so he grabbed Martinez and pulled him to safety. Wentzel said it was almost as if he knew the explosions were over.
After the explosions, Wentzel told Benson that he did not suffer from smoke inhalation, but he did have some temporary ringing of the ears. When Benson asked Wentzel if he had any other role in the evacuation of personnel in the relief/recovery efforts, Wentzel said no.
Benson asked Martinez if he had any other interaction with Martinez after the night of the incident, and Wentzel said yes, three times. A couple of days later, Wentzel said he and Martinez passed each other in a hallway at work, and Martinez didn't speak; the second encounter with Martinez, was after Wentzel was interviewed by CID, and Martinez asked him what Wentzel said, and he told Martinez.
In the third incident, Wentzel said Martinez paid him a first-time visit to his room. Wentzel said Martinez closed the door after entering the room, looked around and commented about all the concrete over his head and the elevator shaft being near his room. Wentzel said this made him feel uneasy and scared, so he placed his hand over his weapon, had Martinez leave, and informed his first sergeant about this situation.
Maj. John Gregory, from the defense, asked questions ranging from have you ever seen Martinez to be violent or disrespectful, did you seek treatment for ringing of the ears after the explosions, and did CID search your room, read you your rights, or perform a strip search on you'
Wentzel said he never saw Martinez be violent or disrespectful in public, he did not seek treatment for the temporary ringing of the ears, CID did not search his room, read him his rights and did not perform a strip search.
Gregory asked Wentzel if Martinez mentioned wanting to clear his name when he came to his room and Wentzel replied yes. Gregory asked Wentzel why he put his hand on his gun while Martinez was in the room' Wentzel said because he was scared.
The second witness called by the prosecution was Maj. Jason Ward, a weapons intelligence officer who conducted the on-site investigation. Ward said he arrived June 8 around 8 a.m., accompanied by EOD and his non-commissioned officer in charge to see the extent of the damages at the Water Palace. He said there was significant damage to the Water Palace, in the rooms occupied by Esposito and Allen, and pattern fragmentation was found. Ward said documentation of the damage included taking digital photographs and gathering evidence.
Initially, Ward said they were looking for a mortar or rocket, but didn't find any linking evidence, and later they began looking for possible claymore mine evidence and found some. Ward said plastic, wire, and fragmentation was found and confirmed by EOD. Ward said this was all turned over to CID through a signed chain of custody document.
Benson asked Ward to remove the contents of a brown paper sack, wearing plastic gloves, and state what they were. Ward explained that they were claymore mine pieces.
After lunch, the prosecution recalled Ward and asked him to re-identify the exhibits which were the claymore mine pieces.
The prosecution called the third witness, Sean Collins, who was a CID special agent in charge, when the incident took place. On June 8, Collins was notified of the incident which was believed to be a mortar attack, and sent two agents to the Water Palace to begin the investigation process.
At approximately 10:15 a.m., Collins said he went to the scene to conduct an initial assessment. Collins said his impressions were that it was a tragic event appearing to be a mortar attack toward the window area. That changed some 13 hours later, when Col. Robert Crow, acting garrison commander of FOB Danger in 2005, called to inform Collins that it was determined to be a homicide.
Collins said this case became a top priority where an investigation plan was implemented and carried out; agents were assigned duties such as interviewing and gathering evidence, and following up on leads.
According to Collins, Martinez quickly became a suspect in this case. He said this was because according to a witness, Martinez was in the area where the blast took place, he stood in the middle of the street after the explosions and did not seek shelter and Martinez was seen looking from side to side.
Additionally, it was said this was the day that Esposito was in the process of disciplining Martinez for dereliction of his supply duties, and Martinez had access to ordnance.
The prosecution asked Collins about the procedures before talking to suspects and Collins said advising them of their rights comes first. Collins confirmed that Martinez was the only one brought down to CID and interviewed as a possible suspect. This was done on June 8, until 4 a.m. on June 9. At that time, Collins said Martinez was released to Master Sgt. Lance Willsey, first sergeant of HHC, 42nd Inf. Div.
On June 9, Collins said Martinez's room was searched and a gunshot residue test was completed. No evidence of claymore mines was found in his room, and the gunshot residue test did not come back positive. Collins said he was not a gunshot residue expert, however, he said it should be done within the first 24 hours.
When the prosecution asked if others were sought for questioning, Collins said yes, others were advised of their rights and questioned. These interviews were performed at the Water Palace, said Collins.
Collins said he learned later that Martinez made daily visits with Esposito regarding supply issues and Martinez met with him the night of June 7, 2005, where Martinez had another opportunity to see the inside of the room. Additionally, Collins said he had reason to believe that the makeup of Esposito's room had been altered four to five days before the blast.
On Oct. 12 or 13, Collins said Martinez became a primary suspect and they had gathered enough information for probable cause.
Gregory from the defense team began cross examination of Collins. Gregory said throughout the investigation, CID agents were claiming the suspect was in the port-a-potty when the incident occurred. Collins said "initially, yes we did." Gregory asked why no other area was focused on and Collins explained because Martinez said he was in the port-a-potty at the time of the explosions.
Collins confirmed that he had overall command of the case and that CID investigators initially approached the scene believing that it was a mortar attack. Collins told Gregory the first 48 hours of an investigation can be critical.
Gregory asked Collins if CID agents documented evidence, took photos and left. Collins confirmed that they did. When CID agents returned to the crime scene, Gregory asked about items being moved around, papers that were swept into piles, and a Martinez counseling statement surfacing, and Collins said that's what he was told.
Collins informed Gregory that grenade spoons were found two days later after several crime scene sweeps were performed. Gregory asked Collins if he considered it to be important to see if someone had grenade pins on them while at the site, and Collins said yes. Gregory added that a person could easily rid themselves of items such as pins, spoons and canisters, and a place to do this could have been the lake around the Water Palace.
The court adjourned at 5:55 p.m. Monday and was scheduled to resume Tuesday morning.