HEIDELBERG, Germany — Pfc. Mario Lesesne remembered stabbing his girlfriend, he told the judge, although he couldn’t remember how many times or how he got the knife.

He remembered, he said, that he stabbed her because he wanted her to die.

But when the judge asked Lesesne why he’d wanted to kill Valerie Gamboa, 19, a private first class with the 1st Personnel Command, Lesesne couldn’t say.

“I don’t know,” Lesesne said at the first day of his court-martial.

Lesesne had reached a plea agreement with V Corps, pleading guilty to Gamboa’s murder, the attempted murder of her roommate and the assault of the roommate’s boyfriend.

So Lesesne’s state of mind, and whether he truly believed he was guilty, became an issue that took up most of the day.

If Lesesne didn’t know why he wanted to kill his girlfriend, the judge, Col. James Pohl, asked him, “How do you know you intended to kill her?”

Lesesne hesitated, and Pohl, who is hearing the case alone without a panel, called for a recess.

Some hours later, Pohl was satisfied the next time he asked Lesesne, 26, why he’d wanted Gamboa to die on Jan. 21 at Thompkins Barracks in Schwetzingen.

“Your honor, I’m not exactly sure why,” the seven-year Army vet said in a barely audible voice. “I know that at that time, that’s what I wanted to do. But I don’t know exactly what triggered it. I really have tried to think about it.”

Likewise, his other guilty pleas were accepted after Pohl questioned Lesesne to ensure that, despite his faulty memory, he’d intended to do what he was pleading guilty to.

Lesesne told the judge that he believed the reason he could not remember many things about his crimes was that he’d “blocked it out” because it was so painful.

The only charge against Lesesne that he did not plead guilty to also went to the Heidelberg Hospital medic’s state of mind. Prosecutors have charged him with premeditated murder, which carries a minimum sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole.

But he pleaded guilty to unpremeditated murder, which carries no minimum sentence. The maximum punishment for both charges is the same: Life in prison without possibility of parole.

Prosecutors are attempting to prove premeditation at the court-martial, which was scheduled for three days.

In her opening statement, Capt. Jacqueline Tubbs, lead prosecutor in the case, told Pohl that Lesesne had made “conscious, deliberate choices” that indicated premeditation. She said that Lesesne, so meek and contrite now, had not always been that way.

“The accused was controlling, he was jealous and he was verbally abusive,” she said. “The evidence will also show that Valerie had had enough and wanted to end the relationship.”

Tubbs told the judge: “The accused stabbed Valerie Gamboa over 20 times with a steak knife he got from the kitchen. Whether it was the 20 steps to get the steak knife or the 20 blows, the accused murdered Valerie with premeditation.”

The families of both Gamboa and Lesesne were in the courtroom. Lesesne’s mother apologized to Spc. Jamie Kaskowitz, Gamboa’s roommate, who was stabbed four times, and hugged her.

According to Lesesne, he would have killed Kaskowitz, too, if her boyfriend, Spc. Larry Thomas, hadn’t come into the room and hit him in the head.

The sentences Lesesne agreed to in the plea bargain won’t be revealed until the court-martial’s end. The agreed-upon sentence stands unless a trial judge gives a lower sentence; the lower of the two is generally applied.

A V Corps lawyer declined to discuss whether there are provisions in the plea agreement for an increased sentence if prosecutors succeed in proving premeditation.

author picture
Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

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