Witnesses review evidence in soldier's murder trial at Wiesbaden
Stars and Stripes December 8, 2004
WIESBADEN, Germany — Soiled and blood-stained, the baby blue jersey and white T-shirt hang in the courtroom for all to see.
Prosecutors in the murder trial of Pvt. Nestor K. Velazquez have summoned several witnesses to identify them.
“Do you recognize these clothes?” Capt. Charles Kovats, a military prosecutor, repeatedly asked witnesses.
The prosecution views Velazquez’s shirts as key pieces of evidence that they say link the 19-year-old Wiesbaden soldier to the murder of Santo Scardino.
Scardino, 18, was stabbed to death in the early morning hours of April 18 during a melee at the Euro Palace, a Wiesbaden nightclub. Velazquez’s attorneys admit he was involved in the fight, but say he and another soldier were trying to extricate themselves from a confrontation with Scardino and several friends when the situation turned violent.
Prosecutors have focused their attention on the clothing and a pocketknife they consider the murder weapon, which were recovered from the scene. They say lab tests of the knife and garments link Velazquez to the crime, a point that will be brought out in further testimony.
In his opening statement to the six-member panel assembled in a Wiesbaden Army Airfield courtroom, Kovats indicated the baby blue shirt — a University of North Carolina basketball jersey — had the victim’s blood on it. The same, he added, is true of the knife, which allegedly has the soldier’s DNA on it.
However, the clothes and knife are objects of sharp contention by the defense.
Some witnesses said they saw Velazquez in those clothes, but others called to the stand said many other people were wearing roughly similar apparel.
Army Staff Sgt. Craig Davenport, who testified Monday, went to the Euro Palace that April night with two other noncommissioned officers. Davenport said he went to check out the club, a popular hangout for Wiesbaden-area soldiers that can draw between 3,000 and 4,000 people on a weekend night.
Davenport said he witnessed part of the brawl and the aftermath. Davenport said he saw a man leave the scene of the stabbing, but by his description, it didn’t appear to be Velazquez.
“The guy I saw was taller, and his skin seemed a lot darker,” Davenport testified.
During Tuesday’s proceedings, defense attorney Capt. Will Helixon brought up the possibility of another attacker with the lead German investigator in the case, Thomas Toelle.
On cross-examination, Helixon asked Toelle about the other man, identified as a Moroccan. The man’s clothes — a white shirt, white pants and white shoes — also were taken for analysis, the investigator said. There was no evidence linking the clothes to the crime, prosecutors said.
Helixon asked Toelle how long after the incident the Moroccan man was questioned by police. It was 90 minutes to two hours later, the investigator said.
When Helixon asked Toelle about other witnesses who said they saw the Moroccan man drop a knife near the scene, Toelle looked surprised.
“I am unaware of a witness being asked at the scene saying this man dropped the knife,” Toelle said through a translator.
Defense attorneys also challenged the chain of custody of evidence seized as part of the investigation, including the DNA swabs from Velazquez.
The prosecution could wrap up its case when the trial resumes Wednesday.
“We’re giving the panel everything we have, and they have to decide what happened,” said prosecutor Maj. Meg Foreman.