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Federal Judge Issues Order To Release Passaro From Jail

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RALEIGH, N.C. — A federal judge Wednesday ordered a former CIA contract employee released from jail so that he can better help prepare for his upcoming trial on charges of beating and killing an Afghan prison detainee.

David Passaro, 39, of Lillington, and a former Special Forces soldier who worked as a civilian special operations employee at Fort Bragg, is accused of beating Abdul Wali with his hands, feet and a large flashlight in June 2003 while Wali was being interrogated about a series of rocket attacks on a remote firebase housing U.S. and Afghan troops in the mountains of Afghanistan.

Passaro was released from jail on bond in August 2004 after a judge ruled that prosecutors failed to show Passaro was a flight risk or a threat to the community.

But last June, Passaro was arrested after he allegedly assaulted his former girlfriend, Bonnie Heart. Since then, he has been in custody at the Wake County Jail.

U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle ordered Passaro to be released from jail at noon on Friday so that he could have regular and frequent contact with his attorneys and to go over classified information related to the case, according to the order.

In the order, Boyle wrote that Passaro's "continued detention inhibits the adequate preparation for trial and works an unreasonable hardship on the defense in light of his danger to the community and risk of flight."

Passaro's release is subject to several terms, including that he avoid all contact, directly or indirectly, with Heart and other witnesses; refrain from possessing a firearm; and refrain from excessive use of alcohol. He must also wear an electronic monitor.

The U.S. Attorney's Office argued against the release, saying that Passaro had violated the terms of his previous release, that he's trained in covert operations and has a violent past.

Prosecutors recently filed a motion to allow testimony from Passaro's former stepson, Matthew Neman, now 26, in which Newman alleges that Passaro also abused him over a period of at least eight years, many times in the same manner that Passaro is accused of abusing Wali.

It will be up to a judge to decide whether Newman can testify.

Passaro's trial is set for April 3, but a continuance is expected. The trial has been delayed several times since his June 2004 indictment due to security concerns and the handling of classified evidence.

If convicted, Passaro, the first U.S. civilian to face prisoner abuse charges stemming from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, could get 40 years in prison.

Passaro has denied any role in the Wali's death, claiming the military made him a scapegoat in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal.