By Mollie Miller
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD Two soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division's Colorado-based 3rd Brigade accused in the alleged drowning death of an Iraqi civilian were arraigned in separate court-martial proceedings here Tuesday.
First Lt. Jack Saville and Sgt. 1st Class Tracy Perkins appeared before military judges at Fort Hood to face charges stemming from a Jan. 3 incident in which 19-year-old Zaidoun Hassoun apparently drowned after being forced into the Tigris River in Samarra, Iraq.
Both soldiers declined to enter pleas during Tuesday's back-to-back hearings in the post's Williams Justice Center. Neither chose to decide if their cases would be heard before a judge or jury of fellow soldiers.
Saville opted for a later trial date. Col. Theodore Dixon, the presiding military judge, set his trial for Jan. 11. Dixon also set a second, earlier date to resolve deferred issues. Fort Hood officials said Saville's defense team will enter a plea and decide if they want trial by panel or trial by judge on Dec. 14.
In the day's second proceeding, military judge Col. Gregory Gross set Perkins' trial date for Tuesday.
Saville and Perkins were two of four soldiers from the Fort Carson-based brigade to face criminal proceedings in the case. Perkins and two other enlisted soldiers went before the investigating officer July 28 under Article 32 of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice. Saville waived his right to an Article 32 hearing, the military's equivalent of a grand jury.
During three days of hearings in Colorado, defense attorneys for the soldiers questioned if Hassoun had drowned. Prosecutors said they did not examine a body produced later by his family after the defense disputed the death occurred. The soldiers also claimed they saw two men get out of the river.
Sitting between defense counsel Capt. Joshua Norris and Capt. Thomas Hurley, Perkins sat upright and expressionless as his military counsel made several motions during Tuesday's arraignment.
Charged with conspiracy, making a false statement, two counts of aggravated assault, involuntary manslaughter and obstruction of justice, Perkins' attorneys claimed that the military was going overboard by adding obstruction and false statement charges to the list of charges filed against their client.
The defense also asked the judge to send the case back to Maj. Gen. James Thurman, the 4th Infantry's commander, claiming he had been provided insufficient information on which to base his decision to refer the case for court-martial.
Gross denied the motion after hearing lengthy testimony from Lt. Col. Tracy Barnes, Thurman's legal counsel.
Gross did not make a decision about the defense objection to the additional charges against Perkins or the defense's request to allow the release of documents that may be pertinent to the case.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington, spokesman for the 4th Infantry, said these issues could be resolved at any time between now and the trial date.
Saville, accompanied by defense counsel Capt. David Drake, showed little emotion as Dixon appraised him of his right to counsel and his right to be tried by a panel of his peers or by Dixon alone. When asked if he understood his rights, the West Point graduate responded with a quiet, "Yes, sir."
Charged with conspiracy, making a false statement, two counts of aggravated assault, involuntary manslaughter and obstruction of justice, Saville informed the court he had elected to be represented by a civilian attorney and military defense counsel. Frank Spinner, a Colorado-based civilian lawyer who specializes in representing military defendants before courts-martial, will represent Saville during the trial but was not present at the arraignment.
If found guilty on all charges, both Saville and Perkins face a maximum punishment of 29 years of confinement, dismissal from the service and forfeiture of pay and allowances.
Contact Mollie Miller at Mollie@kdhnews.com