Airman's assault trial begins
SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany — A U.S. Air Force staff sergeant growled, barked like a dog and foamed at the mouth after he went on a violent rampage in downtown Trier last year, German police testified Tuesday at a court-martial.
A pair of police officers said they suspected Staff Sgt. John V. Nichols was on drugs after he randomly attacked partygoers in the early morning hours on New Year’s Day and later broke into a home. While blood tests showed the airman was drunk, the results indicated no traces of narcotics.
Nichols, assigned to the 702nd Munitions Support Squadron at Buechel Air Base, is charged with five counts of assault consummated by battery, one count of assault on a law enforcement officer, one count of breaking into a house and one count of resisting arrest.
The court-martial began Monday and is expected to end sometime this week.
Nichols pleaded not guilty to the charges, and his defense lawyers say they will prove the airman didn’t know what he was doing.
During opening statements on Monday, defense lawyer Capt. Steve Snortland told a jury of seven officers that Nichols had “a significant psychological episode” the day he was arrested.
On New Year’s Eve, Nichols drove to Trier with Senior Airman Nicholas Pelletier, who had recently arrived in Germany. After a night of heavy drinking, the pair agreed to sleep in Nichols’ car instead of driving back. But both were so drunk, Pelletier said, they got lost looking for the car.
Pelletier testified that he and Nichols parted ways that night after Nichols started acting strangely, trying to open other cars with his keys. Sometime after Pelletier left, Nichols attacked two German couples, prosecutors say.
A pair of teenagers on their way home from a party said they offered to help Nichols as he leaned against a vehicle. But Nichols grabbed the boyfriend by the neck and punched the teen’s girlfriend in the face twice — once while he was clutching keys, both testified. The boyfriend said Nichols laughed as he hit his girlfriend, who was 15 years old at the time. The pair was able to escape.
Minutes later, Nichols would attack another couple walking along the street before breaking into a residential home and injuring a woman, who suffered a shattered shoulder and broken ribs, said Capt. Aaron Maness, who is prosecuting the case along with Maj. Kyle Green.
Police testified that it took five officers to handcuff Nichols and take him out of the home. One police officer hit Nichols in the head with a Maglite in an attempt to subdue him. Nichols barked like a dog and growled, police said, as he sat against a fence in handcuffs.