Photo of outside the courtroom at Aviano Air Base, Italy, on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017.

Photo of outside the courtroom at Aviano Air Base, Italy, on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — The airman accused of entering a fellow airman’s dorm room and repeatedly stabbing her in April was “just interacting with things in his environment” and didn’t intend to kill her, his lawyers said Wednesday.

Airman Cameron A. Owens is accused of attempted murder, assault, breaking and entering and three specifications of conduct “being to the prejudice of good order and discipline.” His court-martial opened Wednesday after three days of pretrial motions.

Shortly before 4 a.m. on April 11, Owens entered the victim’s bedroom after climbing over a wall to reach the common area of her dorm and stabbed her several times, according to the prosecution and the victim’s testimony.

Capt. Andrew Paulson, one of two defense attorneys representing Owens, argued that there was no evidence Owens was angry or meant to kill anyone and that the victim’s injuries were not life threatening. Without offering a possible motive for Owens’ actions, he said the government “overreacted, overreached and overcharged this case.”

Paulson and Maj. Jacob Ramer, the other defense attorney, also called into dispute the government charges of breaking and entering by arguing that Owens entered unlocked, open doors.

Many of Owens’ actions on the outside of the dorms were captured by video cameras, and that’s how he was later identified, arrested and charged.

Paulson said he can be seen wandering into several rooms that morning, including one where he took a knife while “just reacting to things in his environment.”

Owens later climbed over a “waist-high” wall forming a patio to the common room used by the victim — left open to let in cooler air on a hot night — and then entered her bedroom.

Paulson said Owens stabbed the victim only in response to her movement in a dark dorm room.

The victim later testified that she was sleeping and the first thing she remembers was her comforter being “ripped away” followed by a sharp pain in her head. “I never saw the knife, but I felt it.”

Said she was stabbed “at least eight times” and was slow to defend herself from a rapid series of attacks, eventually raising an arm, then sitting up and moving back further onto her bed. “It took me a few seconds to understand what was going on.”

The attack stopped, she said, after she screamed. The assailant fled out the patio door and back over the wall, and she ran out the front door and to another airman’s dorm. That airman called for medical assistance, and the victim was eventually treated at the Italian hospital in Pordenone.

Capt. Carly Havens, one of three prosecutors arguing the case, suggested that Owens might have been agitated because of the end of a relationship with a woman in the States as well as the romantic rejection of an airman he met shortly after arriving at Aviano in March. She seemed to suggest that he was potentially looking for that airman before attacking the victim.

“The government acknowledges that it is difficult to know why someone stabs a complete stranger,” she said.

Owens elected to have Air Force Lt. Col. John Harwood hear the case after the military judge decided to allow key evidence and testimony to be admissible Wednesday afternoon.

In pretrial motions that began Monday, the defense had sought to challenge the admissibility of Owens’ clothes seized during an Italian Carabinieri search of his dorm room, the alleged knife used to carry out the attacks discovered during a following American search, and admissions of guilt that Owens allegedly made to Italian police and later his first sergeant.

The prosecution called three witnesses, including the victim, before the trial adjourned for the evening. Dozens of witnesses are expected to take the stand before the trial concludes next week.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for 40 years.

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