Local News

Jury Issues Partial Verdict In Passaro Case

Posted August 17, 2006

— A jury reached a partial verdict Wednesday in the case of a former CIA contractor charged with beating an Afghan detainee who later died, but a judge immediately sealed the decision because the panel had hit an impasse on other charges.

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    David Passaro Prisoner Abuse Case

    U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle instructed the jury to continue deliberating on the unsettled charges. He sent them home for the day at 6:30 p.m. with instructions to return this morning.

    The jury began considering the case of David Passaro shortly before noon. Jurors returned to the courtroom twice with questions for Boyle before sending him a note about 5 p.m. saying more time wouldn't help them reach a verdict.

    Passaro, 40, is accused of beating Abdul Wali during questioning about rocket attacks on a remote base where Passaro was stationed in 2003 along with U.S. and Afghan troops.

    He is charged with two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon and two counts of inflicting serious bodily injury, but he is not charged in Wali's death. It was decided Wednesday that the jury could also convict Passaro on a lesser charge of simple assault. He could be sentenced to up to 40 years in prison if convicted on all the charges.

    During closing arguments earlier in the day, prosecutor Jim Candelmo told the federal jury that David Passaro beat Wali with a flashlight "to inflict pain to get him to talk," calling the flashlight a bludgeon in Passaro's hands during the two-day interrogation.

    But defense lawyer Joe Gilbert told the jury Passaro only tapped Wali with the flashlight and was being unfairly charged because the man later died.

    "Dave did not intend to hurt Abdul Wali," Gilbert said. "Dave's intent was to find his associates.... Dave's intention was to save the United States. They didn't prove Dave did anything other than serve his country."

    Passaro is the first American civilian charged with mistreating a detainee during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is standing trial in his home state under a provision of the USA Patriot Act allowing charges against U.S. citizens for crimes committed on land or facilities designated for use by the U.S. government.

    Candelmo told the jury that fingerprint evidence links Passaro to the flashlight that the government believes was used to hit Wali.

    Wali's head was covered with an empty sandbag and his hands were bound when Passaro kicked "him with sufficient force to lift him off the ground," the prosecutor said.

    "That's extreme physical pain," Candelmo said.

    Gilbert denied the government's contention that Wali was beaten mercilessly for 48 hours and argued that photos taken of the body "disprove the government's case."

    As the defense rested its case Tuesday, a pathologist testified that Wali's injuries couldn't be blamed for his death.

    Dr. Donald Jason, a Wake Forest University professor, said he reviewed pictures of Wali's body along with other evidence in the case. He said bruising on Wali's back was probably caused by blood settling there after his death. The two kicks to the groin that another medical expert said could have caused the prisoner's death would have left him unable to walk if they had been severe enough to kill him, but there was no evidence Wali was immobile, Jason said.

    His testimony was offered to contradict a government pathologist who said photos of Wali's body and testimony from guards were enough to conclude the prisoner probably died from beatings.

    Also Tuesday, Col. Michael Boardman, former chief intelligence officer for coalition forces in Afghanistan, said Passaro had been uncooperative during the investigation of Wali's death.

    Boardman, testifying for the defense, said there was insufficient evidence to determine Wali's cause of death, but said he did determine that Department of Defense rules for interrogations had been violated.

    Former Army criminal investigator George Wysocki, now an IBM employee in Versailles, Ky., testified Tuesday that he "determined there was no wrongdoing by the shift guards" and that the Army and the CIA had different interrogation rules.

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