- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 10, 2005

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) — Mental stability is expected to be at the heart of an Army sergeant’s trial in the grenade killings of two officers in Kuwait.

Sgt. Hasan Akbar’s court-martial is set to open today on charges that he committed a March 2003 grenade attack that killed the two officers at Camp Pennsylvania in Kuwait during the early days of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Prosecutors have said Sgt. Akbar confessed several times to the attack, saying he was afraid U.S. soldiers would harm fellow Muslims.

Sgt. Akbar’s attorneys do not intend to contest his involvement in the attack and plan a defense of diminished capacity or insanity.

Sgt. Akbar, 33, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder and three counts of attempted first-degree murder. He is the first soldier to stand trial for murdering another soldier in wartime since the Vietnam War era.

Prosecutors say he stole grenades and threw them into a tent where officers were sleeping and also opened fire on his fellow soldiers. The attack killed Army Capt. Christopher Seifert, 27, and Air Force Maj. Gregory Stone, 40, and injured 14 other soldiers.

Sgt. Akbar faces a possible death sentence.

Of the original panel of 20 potential jurors called on Wednesday, five were removed: three for expressing opposition to the death penalty; another for saying he could not consider any punishment less than death; and another for his connection to a 1995 sniper attack at Fort Bragg that killed a friend.

During two days of questioning, defense lawyers leaned toward jurors who said they had experience with mental-health issues. One officer said his sister had problems after brain surgery. Others said they had dealt with soldiers who were sent for mental-health evaluations.

“Sometimes, when events start going down a certain path, they have no control over events that follow,” said a soldier whose father was a psychologist who occasionally allowed patients to stay at his home if they were down and out.

Hearings in March were delayed after Sgt. Akbar fought with a military police officer who was guarding him.

Sgt. Akbar’s sleep habits also have been an issue during nearly two years of pretrial hearings. He fell asleep in court several times, apparently because of sleep apnea.

No jurors said they suffered from apnea, but some said they sleep only four to five hours per night because of work and stress. “The Army is stress, sir,” one juror said.

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