Local News

Soldier Accused In Grenade Attack Has Trouble Staying Awake During Trial

Posted May 10, 2004 6:32 a.m. EDT

— A sergeant accused of killing two officers in Kuwait fell asleep twice Monday during a pretrial hearing in his capital case, causing an annoyed military judge to order the government to deal with Sgt. Hasan Akbar's sleep disorder.

Col. Patrick Parrish expressed frustration that he had to tell defense lawyers to wake up Akbar as the defendant dozed at the defense table.

"It should have been something you brought to my attention," Parrish said as he recessed the hearing until May 24. "I shouldn't have had to bring it to your attention."

Defense lawyer Musa Dan-Fodio said Akbar told him he has sought treatment from the Army for his problems staying awake in meetings. The lawyer said there had been testimony at a previous hearing about Akbar's problem with sleep apnea.

In other developments during the hearing, which took place under tight security, the defense attacked the jury pool from which a panel of 12 soldiers will be selected to hear Akbar's case. Lawyers argued that there are too many ranking officers and sergeants in the pool from which the jury is to be chosen.

Defense lawyers asked that the death-penalty trial, scheduled to begin July 12, be moved or that jurors be chosen from another branch of the military.

Akbar is charged with a March 23, 2003, attack in Kuwait on a group of fellow 101st Airborne Division soldiers and others. The attack took place during the opening days of the Iraq war.

Killed were Army Capt. Christopher Scott Seifert, 27, of Easton, Pa., and Air Force Maj. Gregory Stone, 40, of Boise, Idaho. Fourteen others were injured.

Defense lawyer Capt. David Coombs argued that publicity about the incident from reporters who were embedded with military units was so pervasive that soldiers still could have fixed opinions about Akbar's involvement.

"This offense received worldwide coverage at the time when everyone's attention was focused on what was happening in Kuwait," Coombs said. "Any Army member who heard this had a visceral response."

Capt. Rob McGovern, one of three military prosecutors, said there was no evidence that any potential jurors have been influenced by the publicity. He said panel members already selected for the pool promised that they wouldn't expose themselves to coverage of the case.

Parrish did not rule immediately on the defense motions.

Akbar, 32, has a team of four attorneys -- military lawyers Coombs and Maj. Dan Brookhart, and two civilians, Dan-Fodio and Wazir Ali Muhammad Al-Hakk.

They argued that if Parrish wants to ensure that Akbar stays awake during his trial, he should order the government to get him treatment.

"If that treatment is not in place by the next proceeding, what can we do to keep him awake?" Al-Hakk said. "The court ordered us to see that he stays awake and we believe that is beyond our power."

Brookhart said there are several forms of treatment available for sleep apnea. He said the Army has declined to pay for a device that would help Akbar sleep better by assisting his nighttime breathing.

Although the 101st Airborne is based at Fort Campbell, Ky., the case was transferred to Fort Bragg last year because the division was deployed in Iraq. The 101st has since returned.

Prosecutors allege that Akbar, then of the 101st's 326th Engineer Battalion, stole seven grenades from a Humvee he was guarding and used them to attack the 1st Brigade operations area at Camp Pennsylvania an hour later. Akbar's lawyers have said there were no witnesses to the crime and Akbar was accused because he is Muslim.