FORT STEWART, Ga. (AP) _ A soldier charged with killing two of his Army roommates at their base camp in Iraq waited to open fire until late at night as the victims readied for bed, a prosecutor told military jurors as the suspect’s court-martial ended Tuesday.
Spc. Neftaly Platero of Kingwood, Texas, faces life in prison if convicted of premeditated murder in the Sept. 23, 2010, killings. Prosecutors say the 34-year-old soldier was angry hours after he told superiors that his roommates were too messy and felt his complaint wasn’t taken seriously.
A jury of five soldiers _ two noncommissioned officers and three officers _ began deliberations Tuesday afternoon.
Jurors were told 18 shots were fired inside the soldiers’ room. Pfc. Gebrah Noonan of Watertown, Conn., had just returned from the showers when he was fatally shot in the side and back. Spc. John Carrillo Jr. of Stockton, Calif., was shot while kneeling and rummaging through a backpack.
“The only way for this to happen is if there is a plan. This is not a random event,” Capt. Frank Kostik, an Army prosecutor, told jurors in closing arguments Tuesday. “He waited for the perfect opportunity to squeeze off these rounds and made a choice to kill his roommates.”
Another soldier who shared the room, Spc. Jeffrey Shonk, survived after a bullet creased his skull and another shattered his ankle as he lay on his bunk. Shonk testified that he can’t recall anything about the shootings, including who pulled the trigger.
Platero’s defense attorney, Guy Womack, told the jury that Army investigators rushed to build a case around Platero, 34, and refused to consider other suspects even after forensic tests cast doubt on him as the shooter. He seized on evidence showing skin samples taken from Platero’s right hand shortly after the shootings turned up negative for gunshot residue.
Spent bullet casings recovered from the room were matched to Platero’s assault rifle. But Womack said that doesn’t prove the accused fired the shots.
“The government lost their objectivity at the very start,” Womack said.
No other soldiers witnessed the shootings at Camp Fallujah. Three who lived on the same hallway testified they heard shots, opened their doors and saw Platero leave the room, looking dazed. Noonan, 26, and Carrillo, 20, were dead by the time fellow soldiers found them.
One soldier, Staff Sgt. Jhamaal Martin, testified that Shonk told him: “Platero shot us.” None of the others who helped treat the wounded soldier heard him say anything. Platero’s attorneys insisted the comment was a fabrication.
All four soldiers belonged to the 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division based at Fort Stewart in Georgia.
Platero’s supervisors testified he came to them twice hours before the shootings to complain about messy conditions in his room, which he blamed on the other soldiers. All four of the roommates, including Platero, were told they would be subjected to extra room inspections.
Platero didn’t testify. His defense attorneys urged jurors to question whether they believed a messy room would make a soldier angry enough to kill.
“They only motive they have at all is a peaceful guy who is easy-going said his roommates were slobs,” Womack said. “They said that because he didn’t feel validated, he had to kill everyone?”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)