Hearing starts for soldier accused of fragging in Iraq

By JOSEPH GIORDONO | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 1, 2005

(Editor’s Note: A correction to this article has appeared since its original publication. The article has been changed to reflect the corrected information.)

The Article 32 hearing for a former 42nd Infantry Division soldier charged with killing two of his superior officers in Iraq began Monday in Kuwait with one witness saying the defendant spoke on at least one occasion of wanting to kill one of the victims.

Staff Sgt. Alberto B. Martinez is accused of killing Capt. Philip Esposito and 1st Lt. Louis E. Allen on June 7 at Forward Operating Base Danger, near Tikrit. The hearing will determine what, if any, charges Martinez will face. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

The hearing, originally scheduled for September in Tikrit, was moved to Kuwait in part to allow the families of the victims and the accused to attend, officials have said.

The attack that killed the two men originally was called an indirect fire attack, but investigators soon concluded the explosions and wounds suffered by the men were not consistent with that theory.

One of the witnesses, Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Kevin Fitzgerald, a military explosives expert, testified the blast was caused by a Claymore anti-personnel mine and possibly three grenades, according to media accounts of the hearing. Col. Joan Sullivan, a military surgeon, testified that the men’s injuries were not those typically caused by a mortar or rocket.

A third witness, Capt. Carl Prober, said Martinez twice told him that he hated Esposito. In May, Martinez said “specifically ‘I hate [Esposito] and I’m going to frag [him],’” Prober testified, according to The Associated Press.

“Fragging” is military slang for the intentional killing of one’s superior officers.

Martinez, 37, was a supply specialist with the division, a National Guard unit from New York, and was administratively transferred to another unit while awaiting trial. Esposito was his company commander and Allen had arrived in Iraq four days before the incident as the company’s operations officer, officials have said.

Military officials have been tight-lipped in offering a motive for the killings, which shook the division because of accusations that one of their own killed two of their officers. Martinez, from Troy, N.Y., joined the National Guard in 1990 and deployed to Iraq in May 2004, according to military records. He is married and has two children.

The Army flew Esposito’s and Allen’s widows to the hearing. The trial also is being sent via live audio feed between Kuwait and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., so other family members of both the victim and the accused can listen, officials said.

The hearing is scheduled to last until Wednesday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.