TACOMA, Wash. — An Army paratrooper accused of murdering two young Iraqi cattle herders seven years ago now must await the recommendation of an Army investigator to learn whether he’ll face a court-martial for his role in a 2007 reconnaissance mission gone awry.
A four-day preliminary hearing for Sgt. 1st Class Michael Barbera concluded Monday evening at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Barbera, 31, spoke in a brief, unsworn statement that could not be cross-examined by prosecutors, according to The Tribune-Review newspaper of Pittsburgh.
“I do not kill people for no reason,” Barbera said. “Never have. Never will.”
But five of his former teammates from a Fort Bragg-based cavalry squadron testified during the hearing that his shooting of the two cattle herders was an unjustified killing that compromised their mission in Diyala province.
The next step for Barbera rests with an Army investigating officer, Lt. Col. Charles Floyd. He’s charged with recommending whether prosecutors presented enough evidence for the Army to pursue a court-martial against Barbera.
Murder carries a mandatory minimum life sentence under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
At the time of the shooting, Barbera was a senior scout in the 5th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment in the North Carolina-based 82nd Airborne Division. He was leading an eight-man mission to observe a hostile village when he shot the Iraqis, later reported to be deaf and mute teenagers.
No one reported the incident after the shooting. The Army looked into the killings in 2009 but declined to press criminal charges.
The Army reopened the case against Barbera last year after an investigative report in The Tribune-Review shed new light on the killings based on witness accounts.
Barbera was serving in an Alaska-based unit when the Army filed criminal charges against him last year. The Army temporarily assigned him to JBLM’s I Corps for his judicial proceedings.