- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 16, 2009

FORT STEWART, Ga. | An Army sergeant charged with killing two U.S. soldiers at their patrol base in Iraq opened fire to protect himself, his defense attorney said at the end of a hearing to determine whether the case goes to a court-martial.

Sgt. Joseph Bozicevich, 39, of Minneapolis could face the death penalty if Fort Stewart’s commanding general chooses to put him on trial for premeditated murder.

Sgt. Bozicevich is charged with the Sept. 14 slayings of his squad leader, Staff Sgt. Darris Dawson, and a fellow four-man team leader, Sgt. Wesley Durbin, at a patrol base south of Baghdad.

During a three-day Article 32 hearing, similar to a civilian grand jury, soldiers testified that the fatal shots were fired after Sgt. Dawson and Sgt. Durbin went to talk to Sgt. Bozicevich about poor performance and to temporarily remove him from patrol duty.

“Something happened in that room to cause Sergeant Bozicevich to feel he had to use his weapon,” defense attorney Charles Gittins said in a brief closing statement Wednesday.

It was the first time Sgt. Bozicevich’s attorneys have hinted at what their defense will be if the case goes to a court-martial. Sgt. Bozicevich declined the judge’s offer to speak at the end of the hearing.

Soldiers testified that Sgt. Durbin, 26, of Dallas was found shot in the neck and chest inside the security station where Sgt. Bozicevich was on duty. Sgt. Dawson, 24, of Pensacola, Fla., fell wounded outside. Witnesses testified to seeing Sgt. Bozicevich run after Sgt. Dawson and stand over him with a rifle.

Mr. Gittins said testimony from an Iraqi interpreter at the base indicated Sgt. Bozicevich was acting in self-defense.

The interpreter, Hiader Hamze Muter, said he saw Sgt. Bozicevich shooting at and pursuing Sgt. Dawson, then saw Sgt. Bozicevich double back toward the building they were running from, where Sgt. Durbin was shot. He said he heard three more shots before Sgt. Bozicevich returned to stand over Sgt. Dawson.

“Obviously, Sergeant Bozicevich was concerned about his rear flank if he was running one way, then the other way,” Mr. Gittins said. “Clearly, Sergeant Bozicevich went back to protect his rear from Sergeant Durbin.”

Mr. Gittins did not indicate in his closing statement which soldier he believed to have shot Sgt. Dawson. He declined to comment after the hearing.

Maj. Charles Kuhfahl, an Army prosecutor, told the judge “ample evidence” had been presented to recommend a general court-martial for Sgt. Bozicevich. He also said Army firearms examiners were able to connect three bullets recovered - including one taken from Sgt. Durbin’s spine - to the weapon that fired them.

“All three of those rounds came from the weapon assigned to Sergeant Bozicevich,” Maj. Kuhfahl said.

Staff Sgt. John Dresel testified that he arrived at the scene just in time to see Sgt. Bozicevich fire two shots into Sgt. Dawson, who was sprawled on the ground.

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