WIESBADEN, Germany — An Article 32 hearing — the military equivalent to a pretrial hearing — began Wednesday to determine if a 1st Armored Division soldier will stand trial for murder.

Pvt. Nestor K. Velazquez, 18, is charged with one count of murder and three counts of aggravated assault after a dispute at the Euro Palace disco in Mainz-Kastel on the evening and early morning of April 18-19.

Velazquez, assigned to the 1st AD’s Division Support Command, allegedly stabbed several civilian men at the club. An Italian man later died from his wounds.

Eight witnesses who had been at the discotheque the night of the incident took the stand Wednesday.

None of the soldiers said that they had seen the stabbings or a murder weapon.

Three of those who testified said they did not know Velazquez and did not recall seeing him at the club that night.

Pfc. Robert Bogan of the 64th Replacement Company at Rhein-Main Air Base, said he didn’t notice anything was amiss until the end of the night. When he and another soldier stopped to talk to a woman they didn’t know, a man who appeared to be drunk stumbled up to the three and fell to the floor, Bogan testified.

It wasn’t until he looked down that he saw that the man’s arm was bleeding, Bogan said. He then saw another man, seated at a table, who in lifting up his shirt revealed a deep cut to his abdomen.

Spc. Albert Johnson, assigned to the 1st AD’s Headquarters, Headquarters Company, testified he saw Velazquez around the time a fight had broken out on the ground floor of the club.

“From what I seen, they was getting jumped,” Johnson said of Velazquez and Pfc. Anquan Huggins, another 1st AD soldier. “So I did what I could to help them.”

Johnson testified that Velazquez and Huggins were trying to fend off two men. Before stepping in, Johnson said he saw Velazquez run off with three men chasing him. Once the fighting had appeared to cool off, Velazquez was nowhere to be found, he said.

Huggins did not testify at the hearing.

The hearing was suspended Thursday after the prosecutors, Capts. Charles Kovats and Keith Bracey, asked the Article 32 investigating officer, Lt. Col. Steve Steininger, to close the hearing to the public so six witnesses could testify in private. The witnesses included two special agents and a criminal investigator.

“There were … reasons why I, as the investigating officer, and the U.S. government [prosecuting attorneys] wanted and decided to close the proceedings,” said Steininger, “because the witnesses’ probable testimony could cause a situation where the accused could find it difficult to receive a fair and impartial trial from a potential court-martial panel.”

The soldier’s defense counsel, Capts. William Helixon and Jon Stanfield, disagreed with the motion and appealed to Steininger. After consulting with Col. George Latham — the Article 32 convening authority — Steininger suspended the hearing until further notice.

Velazquez’s attorneys said they intended to appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeals for the Armed Forces to allow the witnesses’ testimonies to remain open to the public.

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