Army sergeant's defense opens in Ga. court-martial

AP News
Posted: May 10, 2011 5:16 PM
Army sergeant's defense opens in Ga. court-martial

An Army sergeant facing a possible death sentence wept Tuesday as he told a court-martial that he killed two fellow U.S. soldiers in self-defense, insisting he fired his rifle blindly while trying to escape after they threatened him with guns aimed at his head.

"I sprayed and I prayed," Sgt. Joseph Bozicevich testified as he recalled the September 2008 shootings at a small patrol base in Iraq. "I did what I had to do to defend myself."

Bozicevich's attorney, Charles Gittins, meanwhile told a 12-member military jury that the accused soldier suffered mental delusions that played a role in the killings of his squad leader, Staff Sgt. Darris Dawson of Pensacola, Fla., and Sgt. Wesley Durbin of Dallas.

More than two years after the slayings, Bozicevich's courtroom testimony marked the first time anyone has heard the infantry soldier's version of what preceded the slayings.

Prosecutors say 41-year-old Bozicevich of Minneapolis opened fire on the men in anger after they critiqued him for blunders during the course of his duties. They were writing up Bozicevich for losing a grenade, losing his direction during a march and leaving behind a fellow soldier on a foot patrol.

Bozicevich said there's more to the story. He testified both men confronted him alone inside the base's communications station, showed him the paperwork and ordered him to sign. Bozicevich said he refused, worried that he'd lose his rank if he signed the papers. His refusal, he said, caused Durbin and Dawson to draw their rifles and aim at his head.

From that point, the accused soldier's story takes a turn into full-blown conspiracy.

He said Durbin told him, "I know how to kill you and get away with it and Dawson gloated: "Your career is over. We got you."

"Who is we? The Black Masons?" Bozicevich said he replied.

He testified that Dawson confirmed his suspicion, saying, "We Masons do what we want to do."

Dr. Thomas Grieger, a forensic psychiatrist hired by Bozicevich's defense team, testified that he believes the soldier suffers from delusions that there are "various individuals or organizations plotting against him to prevent him from advancing in his military career."

Grieger, who interviewed Bozicevich four times, said nothing suggests Bozicevich experiences hallucinations. But he testified delusional thinking likely contributed to Bozicevich opening fire on the two soldiers.

"He could have easily viewed a confrontation not intended to be specifically threatening to be as such because of the delusions," Grieger said.

No one else was in the room with Bozicevich, 24-year-old Dawson and 26-year-old Durbin when the fighting broke out. Bozicevich was the only one to survive their confrontation.

He told jurors that he managed to disarm both men with martial-arts moves that knocked their rifles to the floor and swept Durbin's legs out from beneath him _ a series of quick hand jabs that Bozicevich demonstrated in the courtroom.

Bozicevich said he grabbed his own rifle and ran out the same door where Dawson had just fled. As he tried to escape, Bozicevich said, Dawson ambushed him outside by throwing sand in his face and kicking him in the groin.

Bozicevich said he was blinded and could barely breathe. When Dawson pulled away after a brief scuffle, Bozicevich said he raised his rifle and started firing bursts of bullets.

He said he then stood up, cleared his eyes and saw the door to the communication station starting to open with a gun barrel poking through. Figuring Durbin was behind the door, Bozicevich said, he fired several shots inside.

He said he then saw a silhouetted figure lying on the ground pointing a rifle toward him. Bozicevich said he ran toward the figure, firing his own gun. He insisted he ran out of ammo before he came up on the figure and saw Dawson wounded and bleeding.

"I just remember him crying and saying, 'I'm sorry, Sgt. Bozicevich. Please don't kill me.'"

Other soldiers in the infantry unit have testified they saw Bozicevich chasing Dawson and firing. One witness said he saw Bozicevich stand over the mortally wounded soldier and shoot him again.

All three soldiers served in the same infantry unit of the Fort Stewart-based 3rd Infantry Division. The slayings occurred while Bozicevich was in Iraq on his second combat tour in three years on active duty. He had previously served 15 years in the Army Reserve in Minnesota.


Russ Bynum has covered the military based in Georgia since 2001.