Soldier accused of killing squad members in Iraq

FORT STEWART, Ga. (AP) âÄî An Army sergeant accused of killing his squad leader and another soldier shouted “my career’s over, just kill me” as soldiers pinned him to the ground after he shot the men in Iraq, members of their unit told a military judge Monday. The two slain soldiers had been critiquing Sgt. Joseph Bozicevich for poor performance before he fatally shot them Sept. 14 at a small patrol base south of Baghdad, witnesses said in a Fort Stewart courtroom. 1st Sgt. Xaver Perdue sobbed as he told the court that as another soldier was wrestling with Bozicevich on the ground, Perdue pressed the muzzle of his rifle against Bozicevich’s head and slipped off the safety, prepared to fire. “I was like, this guy just killed two of my soldiers,” said Perdue, the platoon sergeant. “He was saying, ‘Shoot me, kill me.’ I put my weapon on his head. I said, ‘I’m going to give you exactly what you want.'” Perdue said another soldier grabbed the muzzle and said, “Sir, think about your wife and kids before you pull the trigger.” Perdue said he let the soldier take his rifle and ordered that only Iraqi soldiers were to guard Bozicevich until military authorities took him away âÄî to spare him harm from angry U.S. troops. Bozicevich, 39, of Minneapolis, is charged with murdering squad leader Staff Sgt. Darris Dawson, 24, of Pensacola, Fla., and a fellow four-man team leader, Sgt. Wesley Durbin, 26, of Dallas. His Article 32 hearing, similar to a civilian grand jury, began Monday to determine whether Army prosecutors have enough evidence to try him at court-martial. Testimony provided the first glimpse into the circumstances surrounding the slayings because the Army had released few details. Platoon leader 1st Lt. Ryan Daly testified that Dawson was pulling Bozicevich off patrol duty after Bozicevich left a soldier behind the night before. Bozicevich had another problem a few hours earlier, when he lost one of his grenades. “He was having a bad day and making some mistakes,” Daly testified. “Leaving a soldier behind, that was kind of it.” Sgt. Darren Brown, who helped another soldier restrain Bozicevich, said the accused sergeant said “My career’s over. Just kill me,” as they held him face-down in the dirt after the shootings. Bozicevich sat calmly with his defense lawyers throughout the first day of testimony, which was scheduled to continue Tuesday. His civilian attorney, Charles Gittins, declined to comment as he left the courtroom. However, during cross-examination, Gittins asked several witnesses about how tired and frustrated his client appeared the day of the slayings. He said Bozicevich had been on three patrols and was scheduled to work the midnight shift and had been frustrated by losing the grenade. None of the eight 3rd Infantry Division soldiers who testified saw the shootings. Several said they were awakened by gunshots at about 1 a.m. and rushed from their bunks thinking the base was under attack. Two Iraqi soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter who shared the base with U.S. troops told the judge they saw an American soldier chasing another and firing at him with a rifle until he fell. Interpreter Hiader Hamze Muter said as Dawson fell to the ground, Bozicevich stood over him and took aim again with his rifle before being surrounded by armed soldiers telling him to drop the weapon. Gittins asked Muter whether he had witnessed aggressive behavior from Bozicevich before. “He’s a really nice guy, everybody liked him. We were surprised what he did,” Muter said. Daly said medics worked to save Dawson and Durbin, but hazardous weather prevented a helicopter from taking them to the nearest medical station. Instead, they had to be driven to a base about 30 minutes away. Staff Sgt. Anthony Matekovic said he knelt beside Dawson and heard the wounded soldier saying: “Why?” as if speaking to Bozicevich a few feet away. “Why did you do that?”