Grenade attack on fellow soldiers puts sergeant on death row

Friday, April 29, 2005

Sgt. Hasan Akbar, 34, should die by lethal injection for the murder of two of his comrades by hand grenade and rifle in the opening days of the Iraq invasion. This was the sentence handed down by the jury of 15 Thursday, in a military court martial in Fort Bragg, N.C. Last week the same jury deliberated only 2 and a half hours and found him guilty of premeditated murder and attempted premeditated murder while stationed with the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division in Kuwait in March of 2003.

The defense contended that Sergeant Akbar was not able to plan the attack because he was mentally ill and suffering from delusions that his life was in jeopardy. Akbar asked the jury for forgiveness before they went into the sentencing phase: "I want to apologize for the attack that occurred," he told the jury.

"I felt that my life was in jeopardy, and I had no other options. I also want to ask you for forgiveness." He spoke in a very low voice that was described by reporters as a whisper.

Although the defense argued he was too mentally deranged to plan the attack, there was consensus that he had tossed grenades into tents and fired on soldiers, killing Capt. Chris Seifert of the Army and Maj. Gregory Stone of the Air Force. He wounded 14 others.

The jury took seven hours to sentence him to lethal injection, beginning an automatic appeals process that could go on for years.

Prosecutors said Akbar, a Muslim, attacked his camp just before their move to Iraq because he was concerned about killing fellow Muslims in the Iraq invasion. His defense team believes he will get his sentence reduced to life in prison during one of the five appeal cases they expect to bring.

Sergeant Akbar’s is the first prosecution for these charges since the Vietnam War. The last U.S. military execution was Pfc. John A. Bennett in 1961. He was an Army soldier executed after conviction for the rape and murder of an 11-year-old Austrian girl.