Baumholder GI found guilty of hit-and-run
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Staff Sgt. Roderick Cuttino should get justice with mercy.
That was the only point the defense and prosecution agreed on during Cuttino’s court-martial, which ended with a involuntary manslaughter conviction Thursday.
The 31-year-old soldier, assigned to the Baumholder-based 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Armored Division’s 2nd Brigade, was sentenced to three years in prison, a reduction in rank to E-1 and forfeiture of pay.
Cuttino showed no emotion after the panel found him guilty of all charges, including making a false official statement, fleeing the scene of accident and obstructing justice in the autobahn hit-and-run death of 21-year-old Sven Weis.
The defense asked the panel to consider Cuttino’s spotless 14-year military record as attested to by several former and current commanders and senior noncommissioned officers. He could have received a maximum of 25 years, reduction rank, forfeiture of pay and a dishonorable discharge, according to presiding judge, Col. Stephen Henley.
Prosecutors charged that Cuttino struck and killed Weis on Aug. 10, 2002, as Weis was going home from his job at a bakery, riding his scooter on autobahn 62 near his home in Kusel, about 25 miles south of Baumholder.
Prosecutors asked for 10 years, but in a follow-up sentencing phase immediately after convicting Cuttino, the panel gave him the lesser sentence. He was not given a dishonorable discharge, and apparently will be eligible to stay in the military after his release.
Cuttino, who did not testify during his court-martial, was composed after the verdict, saying he had hoped to remain in the military, “doing what I’ve done. I’ve always served my country loyally and faithfully.”
Stopping short of admitting guilt, Cuttino told the Weis family he regretted their son’s death and knew how they felt, adding “the same thing happened to me.” One of Cuttino’s three daughters was struck and killed by a motorist after the Weis accident.
After the trial, Sven Weis’ mother, Monique, said she lost her son and her job in the same week 17 months ago. Without his income, she can’t take care of her handicapped daughter and will be forced to move back to her native France, she said.
Yet Weis said she was satisfied Cuttino showed remorse and doesn’t want him to go to prison. “He has two children,” she said. “If he goes to prison, what will they do?”
The sentencing was the culmination of two days of complex testimony. With no eyewitnesses, defense and prosecution attorneys spun sharply different scenarios for the panel.
After a night of partying in Landstuhl, and driving fast in foggy conditions, Cuttino hit Weis’ scooter, said Capts. Charles Thorbjornsen and Charles Kovats, prosecutors for the government. Cuttino then went immediately to Baumholder’s military junkyard, or strip yard, seeking parts to repair damage to front of his car to cover up a crime, not because he hit a deer as he told investigators, Thorbjornsen and Kovats said.
Capts. Javier Rivera and John Stanfield built Cuttino’s defense on an assertion of reasonable doubt because, they said, German police botched the case. Investigator Eric Drumm testified he and other German police arrived on the scene to find Weis lying mortally injured in the fast lane and his scooter burning on the shoulder of the autobahn. They assumed he’d crashed due to poor weather conditions.
Only later did they investigate his death as a homicide, Drumm said, and he and other German police said that evidence had not been tightly controlled.
Spc. Jorge Scatliffe, also of the 2-6, left Landstuhl just after Cuttino the night of the accident, and was the only witness to put Cuttino on the A-62.
Defense attorneys noted, however, that Scatliffe was originally a suspect, and testified — and mentioned seeing Cuttino driving on A-62 — only after receiving immunity.
Baumholder junkyard employee Robert Goodwin was the only person to say Cuttino changed his alibi, testifying that the soldier told him had a collision with an elderly German couple, not a deer, as Goodwin worked on his damaged car.
However, Goodwin admitted he was the subject of an ongoing military investigation at the junkyard, and defense attorneys noted that he had two burglary convictions.
Finally, the prosecution presented two Germen expert witnesses who testified the damage to Cuttino’s car, as well as paint samples taken from Weis’ scooter, implicated Cuttino.
There’s a “high probability” Cuttino will appeal, Rivera said. “We respect [the verdict]. We disagree. But we respect it. That’s our system.”