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FORT BRAGG, N.C. — The judge in the case of a New York National Guard soldier on trial for the deaths of two officers killed in Iraq by an antipersonnel mine Thursday dismissed a defense request for a mistrial over a witness statement during testimony.
Military judge Col. Steve Henley had earlier informed defense and prosecution teams that a black bag collected from Staff Sgt. Alberto B. Martinez would be allowed as evidence, but statements about Martinez and the black bag would not be permitted at his court-martial.
Martinez, 41, of Troy, N.Y., is the first soldier from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to be accused of killing a direct superior. Prosecutors allege he planted the mine that detonated June 7, 2005, in a window of the officers' room at Saddam Hussein's Water Palace in Tikrit.
Killed were Capt. Philip Esposito and 1st Lt. Louis Allen, both National Guard officers in the 42nd Infantry Division. Martinez, who is charged with two counts of premeditated murder, could be sentenced to death if convicted.
Martinez has pleaded not guilty. Defense attorneys say Army investigators have no evidence and targeted Martinez because he was feuding with Esposito.
Under prosecution questioning, Special Agent Corbett Speciale told the military court about an interview he conducted with Martinez while he was being held in connection with the explosion.
Speciale told prosecution lawyer Lt. Col. Bradley Huestis that he asked Martinez to draw a sketch and describe his whereabouts leading up to the time when he was met by Staff Sgt. David Wentzel.
Wentzel testified earlier that the two blasts had sent him running from the base's shower trailer. Once outside, he said he saw Martinez in the street.
Martinez said he was in a portable bathroom when he heard the explosions at the military base. Speciale said Martinez told him that when he left the bathroom, he took his black bag that was placed outside and ran into the street toward the Water Palace, where the officers were killed.
Huestis asked if Speciale collected any physical evidence, and he said he collected computers, memory sticks and a black bag.
Defense lawyer Maj. John Gregory then asked for the mistrial.
Henley ruled that the reference was an inadvertent slip, and told Speciale that this would be his one caution. Henley ordered the court to disregard the statement.