State News

Hearing Set for Soldier Accused in Iraq 'Fragging'

Posted January 5, 2007 5:26 a.m. EST
Updated January 5, 2007 6:41 a.m. EST

— A hearing has been scheduled Friday for Staff Sgt. Alberto Martinez, a New York National Guard soldier accused of killing two superior officers in Iraq.

Defense motions will be considered during the 9 a.m. hearing at Fort Bragg. Under military rules, court documents aren't available to the public or media. A trial date of June 4 has been set by the military judge.

The case is being handled at the North Carolina post because its commanding general, now retired, was in charge of ground forces in Iraq when the officers died June 8, 2005.

Martinez, 39, is the only soldier known to be charged with "fragging," or killing a superior officer, during the Iraq war when grenades and a mine exploded in a room at one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces, authorities said.

Martinez is charged with killing Capt. Phillip Esposito, 30, of Suffern, New York, and 1st Lt. Louis Allen, 34, of Milford, Pennsylvania They were his superior officers in the 42nd Infantry Division of the New York National Guard.

Esposito and Allen's widows drove from New York to Fort Bragg to see the man accused of killing their husbands.

"Everytime that man is in a courtroom, I will be there and he will have to walk past me," said Barbara Allen.

At a November hearing, defense lawyers hinted that a Supreme Court decision barring the execution of mentally retarded defendants could keep the Army from seeking a death sentence against Martinez. They didn't elaborate.

Martinez also is charged with illegally giving government printers to an Iraqi, who has testified that he sold them for about $800, and failing to obey orders prohibiting possession of a private firearm, alcohol and explosives.

There has been at least one other case of a soldier killing fellow Americans during the war. Last year, a jury at Fort Bragg sentenced 101st Airborne Division Sgt. Hasan Akbar to death for killing two officers and wounding 14 soldiers in March 2003, when he threw grenades into troop tents and fired on soldiers.