A U.S. soldier charged with killing two of his Army roommates and wounding another after an argument in Iraq last fall is innocent and should be cleared of murder charges by forensic evidence, his defense attorney said Monday.
Army Spc. Neftaly Platero appeared Monday before a military judge at Fort Stewart for his arraignment in connection with the Sept. 23, 2010, shootings. The soldier deferred making a plea until a later hearing. But his civilian lawyer, Guy Womack, told The Associated Press after Platero's brief appearance that the 33-year-old soldier didn't shoot anyone.
Fort Stewart's commander, Maj. Gen. Robert Abrams, has decided not to seek the death penalty in a move that angered the family of one of the slain soldiers. Fort Stewart spokesman Kevin Larson said Abrams reached his decision last week "based on the evidence presented by legal counsel" to the general.
"His arms and hands were completely clean and free of any gunshot residue" after the shootings, Womack said. "We know for a fact there was no blood on him at all and nothing tying him in any way to having fired a gun."
Platero of Kingwood, Texas, is charged with two counts of premeditated murder in the deaths of Pfc. Gebrah Noonan, 26, of Watertown, Conn., and Spc. John Carrillo Jr., 20, of Stockton, Calif. The Army also has charged Platero with attempted murder after a third soldier was shot and survived. The wounded soldier's identity was not released.
For nearly a year, the Army has said little about the case. All four soldiers shared a room at their base camp in the Iraqi city of Fallujah. Prosecutors say the soldiers had gotten into an argument before Platero grabbed a gun and opened fire, but have provided no other details.
Womack, however, said the only arguing between the four roommates was over their room being too messy and which of them was to blame.
"The chain of command had stepped in and said, `We're going to start inspecting the room every day,'" Womack said. "The Army position was they think that was a motive and Spc. Platero shot everyone because of that. Of course that's absurd."
Investigators found gunshot residue on the hands and arms of the two slain soldiers, Womack said. He said the soldier who was wounded had a bullet crease in his scalp and later said he remembered nothing of what happened the day of the shooting.
The attorney said the information came out at Platero's Article 32 hearing, similar to a civilian grand jury proceeding, which was held in Baghdad last March. Fort Stewart's legal officials have not made reports and documents from that hearing available for review. And military prosecutors did not immediately respond to Womack's statements when asked for comment by AP.
Platero is tentatively scheduled to stand trial by court-martial Feb. 6, the judge said Monday. Platero faces a maximum sentence of life without the possibility of parole.
Word that the death penalty was off the table in the case angered relatives of Noonan.
The soldier's father, William Noonan, said after leaving the courthouse Monday that he questions whether the Army is serious about prosecuting Platero.
"What's wrong with the Army? What kind of example does that set?" he said.