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HEIDELBERG, Germany — It was a short but loud scream. Spc. Jamie Kaskowitz heard it as she lay in her bed after a late Saturday night out. Then there was another one.

Kaskowitz grabbed a blanket and followed the noise to her roommate’s door. She saw, she said, Pfc. Valerie Gamboa lying on her stomach, her head up, pinned to her bed by her boyfriend.

And in one hand, Pfc. Mario Lesesne was holding what turned out to be one of the steak knives Kaskowitz had recently bought at Ikea, Kaskowitz testified Friday at Lesesne’s Article 32 hearing.

Kaskowitz looked at Gamboa, she said, and Gamboa and Lesesne both looked at her.

“Then he slit her throat in front of me.”

“… The next thing I know, I got stabbed. I hit the ground. I started shaking and screaming,” she said.

And what, prosecutor Capt. Jacqueline Tubbs asked her, was Lesesne doing then?

“He was stabbing me,” Kaskowitz answered. Lesesne swiveled back and forth in his chair, seemingly out of nervousness, just a few feet across from her in the courtroom.

A composed Kaskowitz gave some of the most riveting testimony in the hearing to determine whether enough evidence exists to send Lesesne to a court-martial to answer for the events of Jan. 21. On an early Sunday morning on Thompkins Barracks, those events left one soldier dead, two injured and all of the 1st Personnel Command in shock.

Lesesne, a 26-year-old medic who’s been in the Army nearly seven years and worked as a technician in Heidelberg’s Army hospital, is charged with premeditated murder in Gamboa’s killing.

She was a 19-year-old from San Antonio whose first duty station was the 1st PERSCOM. She’d wanted to break up with Lesesne, according to testimony, because he was jealous and controlling.

The two had gone out that night, along with many other soldiers, to a club called Visions, not getting back to the barracks until after 4 a.m. They argued several times, according to testimony.

Gamboa died of “multiple sharp injuries,” including two gashes to her throat, two stab wounds to her left breast, two to her shoulder, and a deep cut on her forearm — 23 wounds in all, according to Tara Wheadon, an investigator with Mannheim’s Criminal Investigative Command office.

She died a little after 5 a.m. in her barracks while waiting for an ambulance that took an estimated 25 minutes to arrive. She’d slipped in and out of consciousness several times, witnesses said, and when she was conscious, looked back and forth at two soldiers trying to keep her alive.

“She tried to talk,” said Staff Sgt. Anton Kremer, who arrived just after the mayhem ended. “She’d move her mouth, and all you could hear were gurgling sounds.”

“Shortly before the ambulance got there, she quit breathing again, and we couldn’t get her started again.”

Lesesne is also charged with attempted murder in the stabbing of Kaskowitz, who underwent surgery to repair some of her four stab wounds, and assault against Kaskowitz’s boyfriend.

The boyfriend, Spc. Larry Thomas, subdued Lesesne, punching him in the back of the head when he saw him attacking Kaskowitz, according to testimony, and putting him into a headlock. Eventually, Lesesne broke free and ran off shirtless and shoeless. He was arrested about 6 that night, after Gamboa’s former roommate spotted him, then ducked into a restaurant and asked workers to call the police.

Capt. Joe Venghaus, a defense lawyer for Lesesne, told the hearing officer in opening statements that whatever the evidence showed, “What you’re not going to see is anything indicating premeditation.”

Premeditated murder in the military justice system carries a mandatory minimum penalty of life in prison, with the possibility of parole. The penalty for a murder that was not premeditated is discretionary, “as a court-martial may direct,” according to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The hearing continued into Friday night.

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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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