Court debates whether accused soldier was a leader or a follower
May 5, 2006
BAUMHOLDER, Germany — There apparently is no honor among thieves.
As prosecution witnesses, Pfc. William L. Traver’s former friends spent the opening day of his court-martial Thursday testifying about his role in Baumholder’s crime wave during the summer of 2005.
Traver, they testified, used drugs and organized a group robbery of a taxi driver.
Traver’s defense attorney, Capt. Lisa Simon, countered that her client is a follower, and chipped away at the credibility of key prosecution witnesses Pvt. Zachary Watson and Pvt. Brett Brown, convicted principals of what became known as The Rathaus Gang.
Testimony from one prosecution witness helped the defense’s efforts. Helmut Jung, the taxi driver robbed by a group that allegedly included Traver, testified that Pvt. Samuel Bell took his wallet during the attack. That contradicted Watson and Brown, who had testified Jung’s wallet flipped into the back seat, with Traver ending up with it.
Watson, Bell and Brown are among six 1st Armored Division soldiers already convicted and sentenced in the crime wave, which culminated in a fire that destroyed part of Baumholder’s government center, or Rathaus, causing more than $1 million in damage.
Under Simon’s questioning, both Brown and Watson admitted having less than sterling characters. Asked by Simon where he would place himself on a 1-to-10 scale for truthfulness, Brown replied, “five or six.”
Both also confirmed they were testifying with immunity, and under a plea agreement that had reduced their sentences.
Traver — the seventh of at least 12 Baumholder-based soldiers to go on trial for the 2005 crime wave — is charged with conspiracy to commit robbery, robbery, wrongful use and distribution of controlled substances, and other charges, including absent without leave.
Whether Traver, of Company B, 47th Forward Support Battalion, was a leader or a reluctant follower was a major point of contention during the trial. Watson and Brown testified that Traver either planned, or was part of the planning for, a plot to rob brothel patrons in Idar-Oberstein, then to rob Jung after a slow night at the brothels failed to provide a victim.
Under questioning by Simon, Watson admitted that he considered Traver “a moron.” Later, responding to a question from the panel of four enlisted and two officers, Watson called Traver “the textbook definition [of a moron] … someone who has to be led by someone else.”
Simon also zeroed in on testimony from Brown that Traver was the odd man out in a friendship that included Watson, Bell and Brown. The inference was, Watson and Brown exaggerated Traver’s role in the robbery, the most serious charge he faces. But, again in response to a panel member’s question, Watson confirmed that no one, including Traver, tried to stop the robbery.
On Wednesday, Traver pleaded guilty to using marijuana and Ecstasy.
He also tried to plead guilty to a charge of being incapacitated for duty after he missed a sergeant’s formation by oversleeping after a night of drinking, but Judge (Col.) James Pohl ruled he would not accept the plea after quizzing Traver and prosecuting attorneys.