Convicted airman seeks new trial
October 24, 2003
WASHINGTON — Defense lawyers for a former Spangdahlem, Germany, airman convicted of stealing computers and who had eluded capture for 17 months have asked a panel of federal appeals judges for a new trial, claiming evidence introduced by the prosecution unfairly prejudiced the jury.
On Wednesday, Air Force Capt. Jennifer Martwick, the lead defense lawyer for Airman Basic Douglas L. Saferite Jr., argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces that two pieces of evidence unfairly persuaded the jury, which decided Saferite’s fate in July 2000, to dole out a harsher punishment than merited by the crime.
Saferite, who had been jailed on charges that he stole and then sold more than $110,000 of government computer equipment over the Internet, escaped in March 2000 from pretrial confinement in Spangdahlem by tying two bed sheets together and slipping out of the third-floor dorm window.
The panel of five federal judges who heard Wednesday’s arguments could take months to decide whether to grant Saferite a new sentencing trial. Saferite now is imprisoned at the Navy brig in Miramar, Calif.
The Air Force does not own any long-term confinement facilities, and has an agreement with the Navy to house inmates either at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar or Naval Weapons Station, Charleston, S.C.
Saferite was captured in July 2001 after a tipster called the Office of Special Investigations to report a relative confirmed in an Internet chat room that Saferite was hiding in Luxembourg, his wife’s native country.
A court-martial trial was held in July 2000 in his absence, and Saferite, who was a senior airman at the time, was convicted of stealing, attempting to sell and selling computer servers, processors and laptops.
Saferite does not face additional charges connected to his escape.
The jury sentenced him to a dishonorable discharge, reduction to grade of E-1, confinement for six years, a fine of $14,565, and another year of prison if he fails to pay the fine, Martwick said.
Martwick argued Wednesday that the two pieces of evidence that unfairly swayed the jury were a statement by a security guard at the dorm who overheard Saferite tell his lawyers, two days before the escape, that he had just gotten off the phone with his wife, Isabelle Saferite; and a military police report stating that Isabelle Saferite’s car was seen driving near Spangdahlem Air Base about 45 minutes after his March midnight escape.
MPs searched her car and did not find Saferite. Isabelle Saferite lived in Luxembourg at the time, about an hour from the base, and prosecutors said it was “odd,” at best, that she was in the area that time of night, said Air Force Maj. Shannon Kennedy, who argued Wednesday on behalf of the government.
During trial, the prosecution “bootlegged the highly controversial” evidence, and unlawfully presented it to the jury, which led it to unfairly assume that Isabelle Saferite conspired with her husband in the escape, for which there was no evidence, and rendered unbelievable a letter she wrote telling the jury what a good man he is, Martwick said.
The evidence was not unlawfully introduced, nor did it prejudice the jury to come to an unfair conclusion, Kennedy argued. But, “the fact that we’re here today proves that the [judicial] system works,” she said. “An alleged error is being heard.”
An Air Force appellate court already has upheld the jury’s sentence, she said.