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Murder Trial Set for U.S. Soldier

A military judge Tuesday set a March trial date for an Army sergeant charged with slaying his superior and another U.S. soldier last year at a patrol base in Iraq.

Army prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Sgt. Joseph Bozicevich, who was arraigned Tuesday on charges of premeditated murder.

The judge, Col. Tara Osborn, scheduled Bozicevich's court-martial to begin March 29 after conferring with prosecutors and defense lawyers. Bozicevich's attorney, Charles Gittins, said it was an ambitious timetable for a death-penalty trial, but he had no objection.

"We came in with a plan to set a reasonable schedule we thought everyone could live with," Gittins said.

Bozicevich, 39, is charged with fatally shooting his squad leader, Staff Sgt. Darris Dawson, and Sgt. Wesley Durbin on Sept. 14 at a joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol base south of Baghdad. Witnesses have said Bozicevich opened fire on the soldiers when they tried to counsel him for poor performance.

Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division based at Georgia's Fort Stewart, ordered a general court-martial for Bozicevich on charges of murder two weeks ago.

Bozicevich deferred entering a plea at his arraignment Tuesday, which is a typical defense maneuver in military courts. However, accused soldiers cannot plead guilty in death penalty cases.

In death-penalty cases, the military requires accused soldiers to be tried by a jury of at least 12 soldiers. Bozicevich will get to choose between a jury panel of all officers or a mix of officers and enlisted soldiers.

Gittins declined to discuss his defense strategy after the hearing Tuesday. But at an April hearing he said Bozicevich opened fire to protect himself. Gittins didn't say what happened to make Bozicevich feel threatened enough to reach for his rifle.

Bozicevich was in Iraq on his second combat tour in three years of active duty. He had previously served 15 years in the Army Reserve.

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