[Deathpenalty] death penalty news-----US MIL., WASH.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sat Nov 29 12:26:26 CST 2008
For 2 widows, a soldier's trial is their battlefield----Their husbands,
both in the National Guard, died together in what prosecutors say was an
attack by Staff Sgt. Alberto Martinez. The women have found some comfort
in their shared anguish.
Day after day, the widows sit silently in court, a few feet from the
soldier accused of murdering their husbands. They listen as their
husbands' violent deaths play out again and again in witness testimony.
Sometimes, they say, the defendant stares at them with a contempt that
both terrifies and enrages them.
Barbara Allen and Siobhan Esposito have put their lives on hold since June
7, 2005, the day prosecutors say Staff Sgt. Alberto B. Martinez killed
their husbands in Iraq. Capt. Phillip Esposito and 1st Lt. Louis Allen
died after a claymore mine, a plastic shell filled with 700 steel balls
and C-4 explosive, blew up as they played the board game Risk inside one
of Saddam Hussein's palaces in Tikrit.
Martinez, a short, stout man with spectacles and clipped hair, is on trial
for his life. Barbara and Siobhan have attended more than 3 years of
hearings, determined to see Martinez convicted and given the death
The two women have found solace and support in their shared ordeal. After
sitting through countless hearings in Kuwait and the U.S., they have
forged a tight bond. They sometimes finish each other's sentences. Barbara
calls Siobhan "my life partner." Siobhan calls Barbara "my faux spouse."
They did not meet until Phillip Esposito's wake but they are now
inextricably linked, soul mates for life. Each says she could not have
persevered without the other.
The last 3 1/2 years have been emotionally debilitating. The women, in
seeking justice for their husbands' deaths, spend weeks at a time away
from their children. They have rented apartments in the same complex in
nearby Fayetteville, N.C., for the military trial, which began Oct. 22 and
will continue into December. Their determination has cost them about
$15,000, which they have paid out of their savings and private donations.
They file into court every weekday, past Martinez perched at a defense
table, and sit in the front row. They have endured testimony from nearly
100 military witnesses, delivered in crisp, clinical tones that belie the
brutality of their husbands' deaths. They have heard the prosecution
portray Martinez as a seething, incompetent supply sergeant who openly
threatened to kill Esposito, his commander, for disciplining him. They
have heard the defense describe a flawed investigation that relied on
circumstantial evidence and failed to pursue other potential suspects.
Martinez, 41, is the 1st soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan to be charged with
"fragging" -- killing a direct superior. 4 other soldiers have been
charged with killing fellow soldiers. The military reported hundreds of
fragging incidents during the Vietnam War.
For the 2 widows, the Martinez case has been marked by painful interludes:
A medical examiner reviewed autopsy photos and described the steel balls
that tore through their husbands' vital organs.
A military doctor recalled that Allen, 34, though grievously wounded,
joked about his wife being "blond, but . . . really, really smart."
A soldier described how the mine blast wrecked Esposito's quarters, yet
somehow left standing on his desk a photo of his infant daughter,
A military doctor said Esposito's face was so blackened from the blast
that she did not recognize him.
"It's like we're listening to them die again and again and again through
everybody's eyes. I just want it to have a happy ending one time," Siobhan
said wistfully after court one day, sitting in the dining room in
To hear all this just a few feet from the man they believe killed their
husbands is excruciating. "Martinez walked by the other day and shot me a
big grin," Barbara said. "It was very demeaning and almost threatening."
Siobhan said she's convinced Martinez believes he'll be found not guilty
-- and wants the dead men's widows to know it. "He has made eye contact
with both of us, just with contempt," she said.
Capt. Esposito, 30, and Martinez had been at odds for months before their
National Guard unit arrived at Forward Operating Base Danger in Tikrit in
spring 2005. From the time the unit prepared to deploy at Ft. Drum, N.Y.,
Esposito, a squared-away West Point graduate, had been confronting
Martinez, described in court as a poorly disciplined and foul-mouthed
guardsman who needed a special waiver to qualify for duty. Witnesses said
Martinez could not account for hundreds of thousands of dollars in missing
equipment. Esposito eventually required Martinez to have an escort before
going into his own supply area. Martinez told fellow soldiers he feared
Esposito would get him kicked out of the Guard, costing him $2,859 in
"I hate that [expletive]. I'm going to frag that [expletive]," Martinez
said a month before the killings, an Army major testified.
A few weeks before the killings, according to a sergeant, Martinez said of
Esposito: "I hope that [expletive] dies."
The 2 widows were shocked that no one reported the alleged threats, and
that no one took precautions. In what a friend has called her "personal
jihad," Barbara has pushed for military training to recognize and report
signs of threatening or unstable behavior.
"If Phillip and Lou had been trained to recognize these signs and if other
soldiers had been trained, maybe this wouldn't have happened," she said.
"Next time it could be someone else's husband."
The women are disturbed, too, by the military's designation of their
husbands' deaths as non-combat-related, making the officers ineligible for
the Purple Heart.
"What I care most about is Lou's legacy," Barbara said. "The best I can do
for Lou is to have good things associated with his name, for the kids.
"They are entitled to it," she said. "It's an easy way out for the Army to
classify his death this way."
Barbara, 36, is tall and blond, demonstrative and forthright. She once
"went loco" while confronting a National Guard colonel about the
unreported threats, she recalled.
Siobhan, 34, is slim and dark-eyed, with a gentle, reserved manner. She
chooses her words carefully.
"It's very upsetting to be reliving all that -- that's my husband they're
talking about," she said of testimony that has described Capt. Esposito,
variously, as a dedicated commander who reinforced his soldiers' quarters
rather than his own, and a demanding "little Hitler."
After particularly wrenching days in court, the women meet at their
apartments and talk into the night, each comforting the other. Their
families have grown close. Barbara, who lives in Otisville, N.Y., and her
four young sons spent Thanksgiving with Siobhan and her daughter, 5, at
their home in Alexandria, Va.
While her husband was in Iraq, Barbara said, she felt isolated from other
spouses; National Guard families, unlike Army families, generally are not
clustered around a big military base. For Barbara, the nearest spouse was
a half-hour away.
Both women have left behind jobs and stable home lives. Barbara worked in
real estate and Siobhan was a physical therapist. Lou Allen taught physics
and earth sciences in Tuxedo, N.Y., and Phillip Esposito was a project
manager for Salomon Smith Barney in Manhattan.
Each woman has struggled to explain her husband's death to her children,
who are left in the care of family and friends while their mothers are
away in court.
"One minute you're a wife and a mom, and the next minute you're a widow
explaining to your children that their daddy is never going to come home,"
Even now, more than three years later, her boys are reliving the tragedy.
They worry about their mother being a few feet away from the man accused
of killing their father, Barbara said. "They ask me: If he was bad, how do
you know the soldiers guarding him aren't bad, too? And how do you know he
won't try to kill you?"
Siobhan said her daughter, Madeline, tells each new playmate: "My daddy
died. My daddy is in heaven."
The two women cherish memories of the last times they saw their husbands
alive. For Barbara, it was Memorial Day weekend of 2005, when Lou changed
one last diaper as he left home. 10 hours before he died, they saw each
other on a video link.
"He had this magnetic energy about him," Barbara said. "He changed my
Siobhan last saw her husband on New Year's weekend 2005. A few days before
he died, Phillip watched his wife and daughter on a video link.
"He would write me letters, lots of letters, which I still have," Siobhan
said of her husband, whom she met in grade school when he threw a sweater
at her and she reported him to the teacher. "He was always thinking about
other people. He put their needs before his own."
As the trial dragged on this month before a jury of 14 officers and
enlisted personnel, there was more testimony about the officers' final
A departing supply sergeant described turning in 3 claymore mines to
Martinez a few weeks before the attack. Several witnesses recalled hearing
hand grenade explosions after the land mine detonated, an apparent attempt
to mask the attack as an enemy mortar barrage.
A colonel described finding Esposito unconscious and Allen crying out in
pain just after the mine exploded. A military doctor described opening
Esposito's chest to massage his heart, only to lose him a few minutes
later. The doctor performed emergency surgery on Allen, whose liver was
bleeding and whose bowels were perforated by steel balls.
"He was just getting sicker and sicker," the doctor said. Then Allen's
The widows are prepared to endure more. They say they will pursue the case
until the very end, knowing they face deep disappointment if Martinez is
found not guilty, or a long sentencing and appeals process if he is
"We've just scratched the surface," Siobhan said, her face drawn and her
eyes damp after another difficult day in court. "It's going to get worse
before it gets better."
(source: Los Angeles Times)
A prison documentary describes a journey from despair to reconciliation
The story of Jimi Simmons is a story of justice both denied and upheld. As
a baby, the government dissolved his tribe and the state took him from his
parents, but as an adult an all-white jury freed him from a murder charge
and a possible death sentence.
The ordeal lived by Simmons, 56, of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand
Ronde Community/Muckleshoot Tribe, was told in "Making the River," a
documentary that opened Denver's 5th Annual Indigenous Film & Arts
Festival Oct. 7-13.
"I wanted to show people that anybody could change their life," he said of
the making of the film. "Now I want our communities to work toward being a
positive asset for people when they get out of prison."
Simmons' saga began at 17 months, when the government withdrew recognition
from his tribe, his family dissolved, and he was placed in a Catholic
Church-run home. Later, a foster parent told him, "You're going to end up
in the reformatory," and he did from the age of 10 or so he was in and
out of youth corrections for various property crimes. At 27, he went to
Oregon State Prison and "I thought that was my life," he said.
He didn't see his parents again "until they were in their coffins," he
said, and at his father's funeral he first met his brother, George, with
whom he did a robbery in Tacoma, Wash. that led to their being sentenced
to the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla.
A prison guard was killed in the aftermath of the murder of an Indian
inmate, he said, and "the prison didn't do anything about it even though
they knew who did it and never did charge the person who did it." In the
aftermath, however, the brothers were charged with 1st-degree murder "with
special circumstances when they try to hang us." Although Simmons was
later found not guilty, his brother was convicted of 2nd-degree murder and
killed himself because he was a man who liked his freedom."
He spent years in solitary confinement and, unlike the situation in youth
detention, there was no hope of "making the river." The film's title
reflects the youths' belief that if they could reach a river near the
detention facility, they had made a successful escape.
For someone who had only had an identity involving abandonment and
criminal behavior, however, Simmons had the opportunity to reclaim an
Indian selfhood in prison, he said.
As far back as youth detention, Simmons said he felt an affinity with
other Indians "because we were the warriors after all, it wasn't that
long ago they killed all our people." Later, he was aided in his defense
against the murder charge by the Society of the People Struggling to be
Free, a splinter group of the American Indian Movement, he said.
"They were the first people who told me I didnt have to use alcohol and
drugs," he said.
He learned from another group, the Brotherhood of American Indians, that
"by joining with other inmates, I could get things done I couldn't do by
myself. The prison officials don't like it when you get together."
In Walla Walla he also spent his days at a prison sweat lodge and
traditional elders visited the inmates.
"The guards gave certain groups favors, but they never gave the Indians
favors," he said. "But we prayed for everybody."
"They thought they gave us this sacred lodge, but the Creator gave it to
us. And they thought they brought medicine people in, but the Creator gave
them to us. Even when we were locked down, some medicine men would come in
and they would say, 'I don't know how I got here, but I did.'"
He said he wanted to "tell the brothers and sisters in the iron houses
that people care about them and always remember them in the ceremonies."
Simmons, who said he has been "clean and sober for 22 years," works with
grassroots groups in California, particularly with those aiming for a
society that one day will have no prisons because today "we have the
prison/industrial complex they have slave labor."
"Making the River," by Sarah Del Seronde, was presented at the University
of Denver by the Institute for Indigenous Resource Management in
partnership with the Native Student Alliance and Native American Law
(source: Indian Country Today)
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