Former Commander Won't Testify At Soldier's Murder Trial

Tuesday, March 6th 2007, 7:32 pm

By: News On 6

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (AP) _ A former brigade commander for the 101st Airborne Division won't be forced to testify in the trial of a soldier accused in the slayings of three detainees in Iraq last year, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Ray Girouard, 24, is accused of ordering soldiers in his squad to kill the detainees during a May 9 raid on a suspected al-Qaida compound in Samarra _ the day after a speech made by Col. Michael Steele. Some have questioned if soldiers understood the speech to be an order to kill all military-age Iraqi men.

Steele, former commander of the division's 3rd Brigade, has denied giving such an order, and he invoked his right not to testify during an earlier hearing.

Defense attorney Anita Gorecki argued unsuccessfully during Tuesday's hearing that Steele should have to testify. But she did win the right to cross-examine two soldiers about Steele's statements, and what they understood their orders to be.

Capt. William Fischbach, the military prosecutor, argued that Steele's connection to the case was tenuous.

``The issue of whether Col. Steele made a speech the day before is going to turn the trial into an unnecessary fiasco,'' Fischbach said.

The four soldiers initially told investigators they shot the detainees during a May 9 raid in Samarra because they were attempting to flee and because commanders had given them orders to kill all military-age men.

But two of the soldiers now say Girouard ordered them to cut the detainees free and shoot them as they fled. One soldier also said Girouard cut him to make it look as if there was a struggle.

Pfc. Corey R. Clagett and Spc. William B. Hunsaker previously agreed to testify against Girouard in plea agreements. Both were sentenced in January to 18 years in prison.

A third soldier, Spc. Juston R. Graber, pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and was sentenced to nine months in a military jail.

Girouard, whose trial begins March 13, is the last of the four to face trial.

The case is one of two involving soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division accused of killing Iraqis during a deployment to Iraq that ended in September.

Four soldiers from the division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team were accused of raping and killing an Iraqi teenager and killing three others in her family last March. A former Army private also faces federal murder and rape charges in that case.

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