Local News

New Judge To Review All Rulings In Akbar Case

Posted August 2, 2004 7:19 a.m. EDT

— A military judge who has taken over the case of a paratrooper charged in a fatal grenade attack agreed Monday to review all his predecessor's rulings on motions filed in the matter.

Prosecutors objected to such a review. But the judge -- Col. Stephen Henley -- said he would look over 42 motions previously ruled on by Col. Patrick Parrish, who has transferred to duty in Korea.

Sgt. Hasan Akbar, 32, of the 101st Airborne Division, is charged in a March 23, 2003, grenade attack that killed two officers and wounded 14 members of the 101st Airborne Division at Camp Pennsylvania, Kuwait.

Akbar faces the death penalty if he is convicted of two counts of premeditated murder in the deaths of Army Capt. Christopher Scott Seifert, 27, of Easton, Pa., and Air Force Maj. Gregory Stone, 40, of Boise, Idaho.

Akbar also is charged with three counts of attempted murder.

Defense attorney Capt. David Coombs argued that a major who questioned Akbar after the attack didn't inform him of his right to be silent. Coombs said statements made by Maj. Kyle Warren and two sergeants should be thrown out.

"It's clear they had to read Sgt. Akbar his rights before they asked any questions," Coombs said.

In testimony given in May, Warren said Akbar admitted tossing grenades into tents.

Military prosecutors said Warren was acting in a public safety role when he questioned Akbar after finding him in a bunker with other soldiers. Capt. John Benson said the major was concerned about another attack when he questioned Akbar, who had been reported missing from his unit.

When Parrish ruled on the issue, he agreed that Warren acted in a public safety role.

Henley said he would take all the arguments for reconsideration under advisement, meaning he would issue a ruling later.

Henley stopped the hearing briefly when it appeared Akbar had gone to sleep at the defense table, as he has done at previous hearings. The previous judge ordered a sleep study for Akbar, whose lawyer said has sleep apnea. Akbar told the judge he was awake.

Maj. Dan Brookhart, one of Akbar's attorneys, said he should know by the end of this week whether the defense would be ready by the Oct. 25 trial date. Henley could set a new trial date based on that information without holding another hearing.

Last week, a civilian defense lawyer said that attorneys would seek a delay a psychiatric expert doesn't have time to analyze an Army doctor's examination of Akbar.

Brookhart said Monday that the defense may seek that continuance, depending on how fast their experts can complete their report on Akbar.

The hearing ended early Monday afternoon. The next scheduled hearing, a plea hearing, is set for Sept. 8 instead of the previously announced date of Sept. 7.

The civilian defense attorney, Wazir Ali Muhammad Al-Haaq, did not attend Monday's hearing, due to conflicts with a case in Colorado. Akbar told the judge he waived his right to have Al-Haaq present.

The attack at Camp Pennsylvania took place in the first days of the war in Iraq. Prosecutors allege Akbar stole seven grenades from a Humvee he was guarding and threw them into tents.

Akbar's lawyers have said there were no witnesses to the crime and that Akbar was accused because he is Muslim.

The case marks the first time since the Vietnam War that an Army soldier has been prosecuted for the murder or attempted murder of another soldier during wartime.