Mladic returns to court for pretrial hearing

AP News
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Posted: Aug 25, 2011 11:18 AM
Mladic returns to court for pretrial hearing

Genocide suspect Ratko Mladic returned to the U.N. Yugoslav tribunal on Thursday for a pretrial hearing, looking far calmer than at his chaotic arraignment in July.

Then, the former Bosnian Serb general wore a hat in defiance of court rules, repeatedly interrupted the proceedings, and was finally thrown out after shouting at judges, who then entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.

On Thursday, Mladic wore a gray suit with a sober black and gold tie, and left most of the talking to his newly-appointed lead lawyer Branko Lukic.

When Mladic began fumbling with his earphones near the start of the hearings, Presiding Judge Alphons Orie asked him whether he could understand what was being said.

"I'm just trying to put on my glasses. I apologize," Mladic said. "I can hear you."

Mladic faces 11 charges including alleged genocide and persecution of non-Serbs as the central military figure overseeing Serb atrocities in Bosnia's 1992-95 war, including the four-year siege of Sarajevo and the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica, Bosnia. He was arrested in May after 16 years as a fugitive. If convicted of any charge, he could face a life sentence.

The most important part of Thursday's procedural hearing, a discussion of Mladic's health, was done in closed session due to privacy rules. Defense lawyers claim Mladic, 69, may be too ill to stand trial. They say he has had two strokes in recent years. And his lawyer in Belgrade, Milos Saljic, said last week that Mladic has recently been operated for on for a hernia.

That was not discussed in open session Thursday. Orie ordered microphones turned off so the discussion was not audible from the public gallery, though Mladic remained visible and appeared more animated during the 15-minute discussion of his health than the rest of the hearing.

Prosecutors, mindful of the death of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic by a heart attack before a verdict could be rendered in his war crimes trial, have asked judges to split Mladic's trial. They want to try him separately for his alleged responsibility for the genocide at Srebrenica, where more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered.

Orie ordered the defense to respond to that request by the end of August.

The judge also appeared concerned with the length of time the trial might take, telling prosecutors they may be "invited" to drop some charges or cut evidence that appears overly repetitive.

He also questioned them closely about when they will be ready to give the defense any evidence they have that might help prove Mladic's innocence.

Prosecutor Robert McCloskey said he thought that the bulk of all evidence would be turned over to the defense within several days, and a review of any possibly exculpatory evidence should be completed by November.

"We're in good shape," he said.

Orie set the next pretrial hearing for Oct. 6. No trial date has been set.