Family Petitions for Purple Heart for Officers Killed in Suspicious Explosion

The families of two U.S. Army officers killed in a suspicious explosion are petitioning to have the Purple Heart awarded to the men posthumously, the Military Times reports.

Capt. Phillip Esposito of Suffern, N.Y., and 1st Lt. Louis Allen of Milford, Pa., were killed in an explosion June 7, 2005, in Tikrit, Iraq. Military investigators initially believed that the officers were killed in an enemy mortar attack, but later determined that their deaths resulted from a hand-placed explosive device.

Staff Sgt. Alberto B. Martinez, of Troy, N.Y., was arrested and charged with two counts of premeditated murder. Witnesses testified that Martinez spoke about "fragging" -- or intentionally killing an officer -- and had previously threatened Esposito, who disciplined him for a poor job performance.

According to a 2009 report in The New York Times, Martinez had agreed to plead guilty to murder in exchange for a life sentence, but Lt. Gen. John Vines -- who officiated over the legal proceedings at the time -- sent the case to court-martial.

Martinez was eventually acquitted after the defense argued that the evidence against him was circumstantial. The Army has so far not pursued other suspects, according to the Military Times.

The families of Esposito and Allen are now starting a signature campaign to have the men awarded the Purple Heart -- even though their deaths resulted from a "non-hostile" source -- the newspaper reports.

The award is currently only given to service members wounded or killed in combat.

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