3 Capital Murder Trials To Put Army In Spotlight

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
Chicago Tribune
February 22, 2008 Ft. Bragg proceedings could set precedent, bring 1st execution of a U.S. armed forces member in 4 decades
By Kirsten Scharnberg, Tribune correspondent
FT. BRAGG, N.C.--Inside a solitary courtroom on this sprawling Army base, three high-profile murder trials -- all of which highlight some of the darkest moments in recent military memory -- are slated to begin this summer.
There is the case of Master Sgt. Timothy Hennis, a soldier forced out of retirement to return to active duty and face charges that he raped and murdered the wife of an Air Force officer and slit the throats of their two children.
There is the case of Sgt. William Kreutzer, a troubled young man who begged the Army for mental health counseling and, when he didn't get it, opened fire on hundreds of comrades as they gathered for morning formation. One soldier was killed, and 18 others were seriously injured in the bloodiest attack on a U.S. base in American history.
And there is the case of Staff Sgt. Alberto Martinez, accused of being the first soldier to intentionally kill superior officers in a fit of rage while on duty in Iraq, in 2005.
Each case will come with heightened security because the murder victims were American troops or their dependents. Each has the potential to set significant precedent in military law. And each defendant could become the first member of the U.S. armed services to be executed in more than 40 years.
"We are preparing ourselves for all the focus that will be coming to Ft. Bragg due to these cases," said base spokesman Tom McCollum.
Death penalty questions
Although six foreign detainees face the death penalty on charges that they helped orchestrate the Sept. 11 attacks, the Ft. Bragg cases are the only capital murder cases pending against American service members. That leads defense counsels to argue that top brass at the historic North Carolina base are more inclined to seek the death penalty than commanders anywhere else in the country.
"Under the federal system, any U.S. attorney who wants to try for the death penalty has to get that approved through one office, that of the attorney general," said Maj. Eric Carpenter, the military defense counsel for Kreutzer. "In the military system, it's totally arbitrary, depending on the chain of command at whichever base a case will be tried."
Ft. Bragg, with its one criminal courtroom, is hoping that a new courthouse with additional courtrooms will be completed in time to help with the summer's legal logistics. That could be especially crucial because experts predict each of the three cases could take weeks, if not months, to try.
Take the Hennis case, for example. He was first accused of raping and murdering Kathryn Eastburn and killing her 5- and 3-year-old daughters in 1985 in Fayetteville, N.C. Hennis, who had adopted a dog from the family a few days before the killings, was accused of returning to the home while Eastburn's husband was deployed on a training mission and killing her and the children.
Awaiting 3rd trial
Hennis, then 27, was convicted of first-degree murder in state court in 1986. After he spent three years on Death Row, that verdict was overturned on an appeal that he was convicted with weak evidence. He was acquitted in a second trial in 1989 and returned to active duty, rising in the ranks until he retired as a master sergeant in 2004.
But when advancements in DNA science linked Hennis to the rape and murders in 2006, the Army forced him out of retirement and back into uniform. The unusual move allowed Hennis to be charged again with the Eastburn murders -- this time under military law because he cannot be charged with the same crime in state courts due to the double jeopardy prohibition.
The Kreutzer case is sure to delve into some serious criticisms of the U.S. military. Military documents show that Kreutzer had repeatedly sought, and failed to get, mental health care. Yet the Army kept promoting him, even after he told superiors he often thought of killing either himself or his co-workers.
Shortly before his 1995 shooting rampage, Kreutzer was put in charge of weapons supplies. The soldier, then 26, had even called friends who would be in that morning formation to say he was planning on opening fire on the troops, but senior leaders discounted the call and ordered everyone to report anyway.
Though he was convicted and sentenced to death in 1996, that verdict was overturned when the Army Court of Criminal Appeals determined he had been inadequately represented by his Army-appointed attorneys.
Defense lawyers also argue that Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps and Ft. Bragg, should not have been the authority to authorize the seeking of the death penalty in the case. Austin was on base the day of the attack and had helped organize the memorial service for the officer killed. Carpenter said that in any civilian court, such factors would constitute a clear conflict of interest.
For Diane Badger, the widow of Maj. Stephen Badger, who was killed in that October attack, such legal wrangling is moot. "It's just heart-wrenching -- the thought of everyone going through it all over again," she said.
Little has changed in more than a decade at Towle Stadium, where the mass shooting occurred. Diane Badger said she will drive past the field, as she does every time she returns to Ft. Bragg.
"I try to view it as sacred ground, rather than a place of pain," she said.
The final case is that of Staff Sgt. Martinez, accused of using Claymore mines and grenades to kill officers who were set to reprimand him for wrongfully giving government property to an Iraqi. Capt. Phillip Esposito, 30, and 1st Lt. Louis Allen, 34, were killed in the attack, which occurred on the lavish grounds of one of Saddam Hussein's palaces in Tikrit, the Iraqi dictator's hometown.
Two observers in court will be the widows. Barbara Allen of Pennsylvania and Siobhan Esposito of New York have traveled to every court hearing at Ft. Bragg. They even flew to Kuwait for the first proceeding against Martinez.
"I just hope and pray that there will eventually be justice," Esposito said.
The accused
Trials at Ft. Bragg, N.C., will focus on three high-profile crimes this summer:
*Master Sgt. Timothy Hennis will face rape and murder charges related to the 1985 slayings of the wife of an Air Force officer and their two children.
*Sgt. William Kreutzer is charged in the 1995 death of one soldier when he allegedly shot troops as they gathered in morning formation.
*Staff Sgt. Alberto Martinez is accused of using Claymore mines and grenades to intentionally kill two superior officers in Iraq in 2005.