Soldier Could Face Death Penalty Over Iraq Killings

An Army sergeant accused of slaying his superior and another U.S. soldier in Iraq will face a court-martial and could be sentenced to death if convicted, the military said Tuesday.

Army prosecutors say Sgt. Joseph Bozicevich, 39, of Minneapolis shot his squad leader, Staff Sgt. Darris Dawson, and Sgt. Wesley Durbin on Sept. 14 at a joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol base south of Baghdad. Witnesses have said Bozicevich opened fire on the soldiers when they tried to counsel him for poor performance.

Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division based at Georgia's Ft. Stewart, ordered a general court-martial for Bozicevich on charges of murder. His decision Tuesday was based on preliminary evidence heard in April at the accused soldier's Article 32 hearing, similar to a civilian grand jury.

If Bozicevich is convicted but not sentenced to death, he would face life in prison without parole, said Fort Stewart spokesman Kevin Larson. No trial date has been set.

Bozicevich's attorney, Charles Gittins, did not immediately return a phone call and e-mail message seeking comment Tuesday evening.

Dawson's stepmother, Maxine Mathis, said she was thankful the military was moving forward with the case. But she said she couldn't support the death penalty for Bozicevich.

"If they could just send him to prison, that wouldn't bother me one bit," Mathis said by phone from Pensacola, Fla. "I just feel in my heart something snapped in that man. I don't know what those young men go through over there."

The home telephone number for Durbin's wife, Brandi Durbin, had been disconnected. There is no listed telephone number for Durbin's parents in Dallas.

At the three-day hearing in April, Gittins said Bozicevich opened fire to protect himself. But Gittins didn't say what happened to make Bozicevich feel threatened enough to reach for his rifle.

Soldiers in Bozicevich's unit testified at the hearing that they were roused from their bunks late at night by gunfire. Some said they saw Dawson fleeing as Bozicevich chased him with a rifle. When Dawson fell, bleeding and mortally wounded, Bozicevich stood over him before being tackled by soldiers who raced to the scene.

Durbin, 26, of Dallas was later found shot in the neck and chest inside the security station where Bozicevich had been on duty. Dawson, 24, of Pensacola, died after being taken to a field hospital in Baghdad.

The soldiers' platoon leader, 1st Lt. Ryan Daly, testified that Dawson planned to pull Bozicevich off patrol duty after he left a soldier behind on a foot patrol the day before the slayings. He said Bozicevich had another problem earlier when he lost one of his grenades. Durbin was to temporarily replace Bozicevich as a four-man team leader.

Soldiers from Bozicevich's unit said it was standard procedure for troops to carry loaded rifles at their base in Iraq. Preliminary testimony indicated Bozicevich, Dawson and Durbin were all armed when the shootings occurred.

Bozicevich was in Iraq on his second combat tour in three years of active duty. He had previously served 15 years in the Army Reserve in Minnesota.