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WIESBADEN, Germany — A novel sleepwalking defense failed to free a 1st Armored Division soldier accused of stabbing a German friend while he was AWOL.

A seven-officer panel convicted Pvt. Charles M. Savage, 25, Friday after a three-day court-martial. On Saturday, the panel sentenced him to 23 years in prison, reduction in rank to E-1, forfeiture of all benefits and a dishonorable discharge.

The panel exercised the most severe of its options, convicting Savage of attempted premeditated murder. That meant jurors were convinced he meant to kill Kirsten Macri, 34. Lesser charges did not demand premeditation, or intent to kill.

Savage dodged the maximum sentence — life without the possibility of parole — as well as the prosecution’s request he serve 35 years.

The conviction and sentence were the culmination of a case notable not just in the defense strategy and its complexities, but also in questions left unanswered.

Closing arguments tend to neatly sum up defense and prosecution positions, but not in this case. Though both sides agreed Savage stabbed Macri on April 11, 2005, neither offered a definitive explanation why.

During the court-martial, both agreed on this: Savage, absent without leave, launched an unprovoked attacked on a sleeping Macri after agonizing whether to return to his brigade where, Savage claimed, noncommissioned officers harassed him.

However, just why Savage turned for help to Macri, a friend of a friend whom he’d known for only three weeks, with the two communicating mostly via text messaging, was never explained.

Defense attorney David Court built his case around a sanity-board diagnosis that Savage is a parasomniac, unknowingly attacking Macri, then remembering nothing about it.

Expert witnesses for both sides agreed such a condition exists, though not on what parasomniacs are capable of in a state between sleeping and consciousness, or even if there was any real evidence Savage is a parasomniac.

Though prosecution was not obligated to provide a motive, Capt. Alison Gregoire suggested Savage saw Macri as siding with the Army after she recommended he return to his unit. Macri gave Savage “no warm and fuzzy,” and that may have been enough to provoke him. Savage could also have been worried that Macri would turn him in or reveal to his girlfriend that he had stayed overnight at her apartment, though the two-day stay was platonic, with no sex or alcohol.

Ultimately, Gregoire concluded, “there is no ‘why.’ One would be hard-pressed to come up with a rational explanation as to why he stabbed her seven times, then tried to choke her.”

There is “almost invariably a ‘why’ to criminal actions,” retorted Court, claiming that Savage didn’t consciously commit any.

Savage easily could have killed Macri, Court said throughout the trial. In his closing statement, he pointed out Macri suffered no wound as deep as Savage’s 2½-inch blade could have inflicted. If Savage planned to kill her, Court said, “all he can do is stab her weakly in the back? That’s pretty clumsy if you’re planning to kill someone.”

According to testimony, during the attack, Savage made cryptic remarks, let Macri go when she relaxed, then left the room in a confused state. Court said: “That’s exactly what the experts tell you occurs when a sleepwalker wakes up.”

But testimony as to what “typical behavior” is for a parasomniac varied dramatically. One expert witness for the prosecution alluded to a case in which a parasomniac drove a distance, killed one person, then attacked another before waking up.

But Gregoire argued parasomniacs far more typically repeat routine behavior, “do things like they usually do. Here, we’re lacking the ‘like they usually do.’”

Before the attack, Savage went into Macri’s room three times to ask if he should return to Baumholder, the prosecutor said. Then he had to look for a knife. After the attack, he dressed, left the apartment, and paid for gas on the drive back, “all very much purposeful conduct,” Gregoire said.

Savage initially told German police a third person was involved, though forensic specialists detected the blood of only two people — Savage and Macri — at the crime scene. Gregoire said Savage concocted the parasomnia excuse after the third-man story collapsed.

The most emotional testimony occurred during the sentencing phase Saturday.

Macri testified the trauma of the attack forced her to leave her apartment and retreat into a circle of family and friends, unable to trust anyone new.

Though he didn’t testify during the trial, Savage stood during the sentencing phase and, through tears, said, “Kirsten, I know what I did was one of the most horrible things anyone could go through. I’m sorry …. I hope you never have to go through anything like this again.”

Macri appeared unmoved, but swallowed hard, then shook her head ever so slightly.

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