Deaths of Phillip Esposito and Louis Allen

Deaths of Phillip Esposito and Louis Allen
Phillip Esposito and Louis Allen Memorial.jpg
A temporary memorial to Phillip Esposito and Louis Allen
erected in Tikrit shortly after their deaths.
Date: June 7, 2005
Place: Forward Operating Base Danger,
Tikrit, Iraq
Charge: Two counts of premeditated murder
Result: Acquittal

The deaths of Phillip Esposito and Louis Allen were caused on June 7, 2005, at Forward Operating Base Danger in Tikrit, Iraq. Captain Phillip Esposito and First Lieutenant Louis Allen, from a New York Army National Guard unit of the United States 42nd Infantry Division, were killed by a Claymore mine placed in the window of Esposito's office.

Military investigators determined that the mine was deliberately placed and detonated with the intention of killing Esposito and Allen. Staff Sergeant Alberto B. Martinez from the officers' unit was charged in the killing but was acquitted in a court martial trial at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on December 4, 2008. The case was one of only two publicly-announced alleged fragging incidents among American forces during the Iraq war.

Contents

Killing

On the evening of June 7, 2005, Captain Phillip Esposito, 30, of Suffern, New York, and First Lieutenant Louis Allen, 34, of Milford, Pennsylvania, were playing the board game Risk in Esposito's office in the Water Palace building on the United States Forward Operating Base Danger in Tikrit, Iraq. The officers were from the Headquarters and Headquarters Company of the 42nd Infantry Division, a New York Army National Guard unit from Troy, New York deployed to Iraq in support of US operations in the Iraq War. Esposito was the company commander and Allen was the company's operations officer. At 10 p.m., a claymore mine placed next to the window of Esposito's office exploded, blasting 700 steel ball bearings into the office space and critically wounding the two officers.[1]

Seconds after the explosion, several grenades exploded in the vicinity of Esposito's office. Shortly thereafter, the two injured officers were rushed to a hospital at Forward Operating Base Speicher, but both died early June 8, 2005, from serious internal injuries suffered in the explosion.[2]

Esposito, a project manager for Smith Barney in Manhattan, was survived by a wife and an 18-month-old daughter. Allen, a high-school physics and earth sciences teacher in Tuxedo, New York, was survived by a wife and four young sons.[3]

Focus on Martinez

Military investigators initially thought that the two officers were killed by an insurgent mortar or rocket attack but later determined that the blast was deliberately caused by a hand-placed explosive device and began looking for suspects. Staff Sergeant Alberto B. Martinez, 37 from Schaghticoke, New York, Esposito's and Allen's unit's supply sergeant, was arrested and charged with the crime.[4]

Alberto B. Martinez

Witnesses later testified that Martinez had openly threatened to kill Esposito. Esposito had disciplined Martinez for poor job performance and had initiated proceedings which might have resulted in Martinez being discharged from the military or removed from his full-time Guard position.[5] Witnesses placed Martinez in the vicinity of the Water Palace shortly after the explosion.[6]

At an Article 32 hearing in Kuwait in October and November 2005, Colonel Patrick Reinert recommended a general court-martial for Martinez based on the evidence presented. Esposito's and Allen's widows traveled to Kuwait and were present at the hearing.[7]

After learning of additional evidence against him, including testimony from a soldier who stated that she had given Martinez claymore mines and grenades shortly before the killings, Martinez, on April 3, 2006, agreed to plead guilty to murder in exchange for a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Lieutenant General John Vines, commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps and convening authority over the legal proceedings, however, rejected the plea agreement and sent the case to court-martial under two counts of premeditated murder, Article 118 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.[8]

The court-martial was held at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, beginning in October 2008 with Colonel Stephen Henley sitting as the trial judge. During the trial, Sergeant Sandra Pelton, a 42nd Division cook, testified for the prosecution that Martinez twice mentioned fragging when he came through her dining facility a few days before the explosion. On one occasion Pelton asked Martinez how he was doing and Martinez made a noise simulating an explosion and said, "Frag him, frag. I mean it."[9] Around 20 other soldiers and officers testified that they had heard Martinez threaten or insult Esposito.[10]

Martinez' defense team countered that the Army's evidence against Martinez was circumstantial and that prosecution witnesses' testimonies were inconsistent. The defense team also presented evidence that Martinez was not the only soldier in the unit with a grudge against Esposito. After two days of deliberations, the jury acquitted Martinez on December 4, 2008. Martinez was honorably discharged from the military shortly thereafter. The US Army has not publicly identified or charged any other suspects in the killings.[8]

The case was one of only two publicly known instances of US enlisted soldiers charged with intentionally killing superior officers during the Iraq war. In 2005, Hasan Akbar was convicted of killing two officers in Kuwait in 2003 and sentenced to death.[8]

References

Notes

  1. ^ Zucchino, "For two widows, a soldier's trial is their battlefield", Giordono, "Guardsman faces murder charges in deaths of two officers at FOB Danger", Giordono, "Hearing starts for soldier accused of fragging in Iraq"
  2. ^ Gavin, "Army Staff Sergeant Alberto Martinez, Acquitted of Murder of Two Officers in Iraq, Speaks with Reporter", Zucchino, "For two widows, a soldier's trial is their battlefield", Army Times, "Defense for alleged fragger asks for more time"
  3. ^ Gavin, "Army Staff Sergeant Alberto Martinez, Acquitted of Murder of Two Officers in Iraq, Speaks with Reporter", Zucchino, "For two widows, a soldier's trial is their battlefield", Giordono, "Guardsman faces murder charges in deaths of two officers at FOB Danger", CBS, "Soldier Charged In Officer Deaths"
  4. ^ Army Times, "Defense for alleged fragger asks for more time", Gavin, "Army Staff Sergeant Alberto Martinez, Acquitted of Murder of Two Officers in Iraq, Speaks with Reporter", Zucchino, "For two widows, a soldier's trial is their battlefield", Woolverton, "Jury acquits Martinez of murder charges", von Zielbauer, "After Guilty Plea Offer, G.I. Cleared of Iraq Deaths", Associated Press, "Judge refuses to dismiss Martinez charges".
  5. ^ Zucchino, Woolverton, Gavin, von Zielbauer, Associated Press
  6. ^ Gavin, "Army Staff Sergeant Alberto Martinez, Acquitted of Murder of Two Officers in Iraq, Speaks with Reporter", Zucchino, "For two widows, a soldier's trial is their battlefield", Woolverton, "Jury acquits Martinez of murder charges", von Zielbauer, "After Guilty Plea Offer, G.I. Cleared of Iraq Deaths", Associated Press, "Judge refuses to dismiss Martinez charges".
  7. ^ Giordono, "Court-martial advised in alleged fragging"
  8. ^ a b c von Zielbauer "After Guilty Plea Offer, G.I. Cleared of Iraq Deaths"
  9. ^ Thompson, "Defense wraps up in fragging court-martial"
  10. ^ Zucchino, David, "Widows Pursue Justice In Soldiers' Slayings", Los Angeles Times, April 9, 2010.

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