Weisbaden soldier on trial for murder
WIESBADEN, Germany — A Wiesbaden soldier on trial for murder turned a normal fistfight into a deadly brawl when he brandished his pocketknife and started to lash out, Army prosecutors said Monday.
The general court-martial of Pvt. Nestor K. Velazquez, 19, who is accused of unpremeditated murder, began with prosecutors charging he needlessly stabbed a man to death during an April bar fight in Mainz-Kastel.
“He’s guilty because he elevated a simple fistfight into a knife fight,” said Capt. Charles Kovats, one of the prosecutors in the case.
Defense attorneys, however, said in their opening arguments that Army prosecutors were telling “only half the story.”
Velazquez was trying to break up a fight involving a fellow soldier, defense attorneys said, and the fight turned into a chaotic brawl in which the soldiers were vastly outnumbered. In addition, the victim in the case, Santo Scardino, was on drugs at the time of the incident, according to Capt. Jon Stanfield, the lead defense attorney.
“This was not a mere fistfight … [Velazquez] was in fear for his life,” Stanfield said.
Velazquez is charged with fatally stabbing Scardino, an 18-year-old from Italy, during the fight at the Euro Palace on April 18. Three Germans and a Turkish man also were injured during the incident.
Velazquez is assigned to the Headquarters and Headquarters Company of the 1st Armored Division’s Support Command in Wiesbaden. The New York City native joined the Army in July 2003 and arrived in Germany in late February this year.
On the opening day of the trial, prosecutors called several witnesses to the stand, including Pfc. Anquan Huggins, a 1st AD soldier who was with Velazquez in the bar.
Huggins admitted to throwing the first punch, but said he did so only after Scardino grabbed him.
“He had some friends with him, about six or seven guys [standing] behind him,” Huggins testified.
Huggins said that he did not see Velazquez with the knife, but that he heard glass breaking around him and feared for his own safety.
Another witness who took the stand, Christian Rein, said that he was Scardino’s friend. Rein said that he was coming to the aid of his friend and attempted to mediate the disturbance, but the situation soon spun out of control.
Rein was one of the people stabbed in the melee.
“There were glasses and ashtrays flying through the air,” Rein said.
The case is being heard by a six-member panel of officers and senior noncommissioned officers. The trial, which is expected to last all week, resumes Tuesday morning at Wiesbaden Army Airfield.