BAGHDAD, Iraq, AP- The U.S. military charged a staff sergeant from the New York National Guard with murdering his two commanders at a base outside Baghdad, in what is believed to be the first case of an American soldier in Iraq accused of killing his superiors.
The military initially concluded that the June 7 deaths of Capt. Phillip T. Esposito, of Suffern, N.Y., and 1st Lt. Louis E. Allen, of Milford, Pa., were caused by a mortar round.
But this week the military charged Staff Sgt. Alberto B. Martinez of Troy, N.Y., with two counts of premeditated murder, according to a statement issued in Baghdad on Thursday.
Martinez, 37, is a supply specialist with the Headquarters Company of the 42nd Infantry Division, New York Army National Guard. Esposito, 30 and the father of a 1-year-old girl, was company commander and Allen, 34 and a father of four, was a company operations officer.
The "fragging" incident occurred near Tikrit — Saddam Hussein”s hometown 80 miles north of Baghdad — at Forward Operating Base Danger in what used to be one of the ousted Iraqi leader”s palace on the banks of the Tigris River.
Fragging is a term used to refer to soldiers killing their superiors.
The military initially concluded the commanders were killed by "indirect fire" on the base — a mortar round that struck a window on the side of the building where Esposito and Allen were.
A criminal investigation was launched after it was determined that the "blast pattern" at the scene was inconsistent with a mortar attack.
Martinez is believed to have allegedly used some kind of explosive device, possibly a grenade, in the attack, military officials said on condition of anonymity because the matter was still under investigation.
He was charged with two counts of premeditated murder, said a statement by the Multinational Task Force in Iraq. He currently is at a military detention facility in Kuwait.
His alleged motive was unclear. He has been assigned a military attorney and has the option of hiring a civilian lawyer, authorities said.
"Staff Sgt. Martinez has been and will continue to be afforded the extensive rights under the Uniform Code of Military Justice," military spokesman Col. Billy J. Buckner said.
U.S. military officials in Iraq declined to comment further.
Martinez”s family had been touched by a string of recent tragedies, a neighbor said Thursday. He had recently lost his home to a fire and moved back to his childhood residence with his father in Troy, an industrial city along the Hudson River just north of Albany, longtime neighbor Barbara Prevost said.
His mother also had died in recent years, Prevost said.
"They”ve had a lot of tragedy already," she said.
The 42nd Infantry Division took over from the 1st Infantry Division in January and is responsible for a vast section of northern and central Iraq.
Martinez, who joined the New York Army National Guard in December 1990, was deployed to Iraq in May 2004.
Allen was a science teacher at George F. Baker High School in Tuxedo, N.Y., and was deployed to Iraq just a few weeks ago. He is survived by his wife, Barbara, and four sons, ages 1 to 6.
Esposito is survived by his wife and 19-month-old daughter.
The Tikrit case is at least the second known incident in which a U.S. soldier has been charged with killing his comrades during the Iraq war.
In April, a sergeant in the Army”s 101st Airborne Division was convicted of murder and attempted murder for a grenade and rifle attack that killed two officers and wounded 14 soldiers in Kuwait during the opening days of the 2003 invasion.
Hasan Akbar, a 34-year-old Muslim who was sentenced to death, told investigators he staged the attack because he was upset that American troops would kill fellow Muslims.
Fragging entered the American lexicon in the Vietnam War.
Such incidents increased late in the 1960s as the strains grew on a draftee army waging an unpopular war. Young men feeling hassled or unnecessarily put in harm”s way by their commanders settled their grievances with a fragmentation grenade or a bullet in the back.
Between 1969 and 1971, the Army reported 600 fragging incidents that killed 82 Americans and injured 651. In 1971 alone, there were 1.8 fraggings for every 1,000 American soldiers serving in Vietnam, not including gun and knife assaults.