Court-martial begins for soldier facing hit-and-run charge
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — A Baumholder-based soldier could face 25 years in prison if convicted in the involuntary manslaughter trial that opened Tuesday at Kleber Casern.
The government charges that Staff Sgt. Roderick Cuttino was driving the BMW that struck and killed Sven Weis on Aug. 10, 2002, as the 21-year-old German was riding his scooter on autobahn 62, about 25 miles south of Baumholder.
Cuttino, a 14-year veteran, assigned to Headquarters, Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Armored Division’s Baumholder-based 2nd Brigade, is charged with involuntary manslaughter, fleeing the scene of an accident and giving investigators false statements.
As Cuttino’s court-martial opened, the courtroom resembled a used auto parts shop, with car bits strewn around, all from the BMW that struck and killed Weis, according to the prosecution.
Capt. Charles Thorbjornsen, lead prosecutor, promised expert testimony would link the auto parts to Cuttino and, by the end of the trial, “prove every element of every specification of every charge.”
With no eyewitnesses, the defense and prosecutors debated interpretations of evidence and whether that evidence had been tainted. Both sides offered different explanations on how Weis died and why Cuttino began major body repairs on the front of his BMW just hours after Weis died. Cuttino told witnesses that he had struck a deer on the way to see a friend about 40 kilometers north of Baumholder, according to testimony.
And, if the government had such a strong case, asked lead defense attorney Capt. Javier Rivera, why wasn’t Cuttino charged until more than a year after Weis’ death?
“I guarantee you once you heard all the witnesses, you’ll have no doubt that Sgt. Cuttino is the wrong man,” Rivera said.
Cuttino’s defense team spent much of the opening day challenging the testimony of German police and investigators. Prosecutors said that crucial evidence gathered both at the scene and from Baumholder’s military junkyard was properly handled and examined, and that paint flakes and scratches prove Cuttino’s BMW struck Weis’ scooter.
But defense attorneys Rivera and Capt. John Stanfield countered that investigators botched the case from the start, mistakes compounded by German police mishandling evidence.
German Police Investigator Erwin Drumm spent the most time on the witness stand Tuesday, recounting the accident and its aftermath.
“At that time, all we knew was there was a damaged vehicle and an injured person,” Drumm said through a translator.
Only later, the investigator said, did he notice evidence that Weis’ scooter was struck from behind. But he and other German police testified that they did little investigating at the scene, and that much of the evidence was gathered by a wrecker operator, not police.
The court-martial is scheduled to run through Friday.