updated 1/23/2009 3:54:23 PM ET 2009-01-23T20:54:23

A soldier found dead in a car last summer was punched, choked and restrained by members of his unit after a night of drinking, a paratrooper testified during a hearing Friday.

Sgt. Mitchell Lafortune said he saw the soldiers "aggressively assault" Pfc. Luke Brown in a patch of woods after the group left a Fayetteville bar early July 20. Lafortune said he thought Brown was dead because he was pale and his eyes were closed.

"I should have done something to make sure he was OK," said Lafortune, who has not been charged and testified that he did not participate in choking Brown. "I should have been smart enough to walk out of the woods and at least call Fayetteville (police). It's something I regret to this day."

Lafortune testified during an Article 32, similar to a civilian grand jury, for five of seven soldiers charged with involuntary manslaughter in Brown's death. The other two are scheduled to appear Feb. 27 and the division commander will decide whether to convene a formal trial, or court-martial.

Defense attorney Todd Connormon, who represents 24-year-old Spc. Charles B. DeLong, one of those charged, called the situation "a tragedy," and said the soldiers were trying to take care of a friend.

"I'm hoping this doesn't go to court," Connormon said. "I don't think it should."

Lafortune's testimony was the first public account of the night Brown died.

He said Brown, 27, an intelligence officer from Fredericksburg, Va., was drinking and socializing at the Ugly Stick bar but seemed in a bad mood, complaining about the price of beer. Brown got into an argument with a soldier from another unit, grabbed the man's beer and drank it while they were watching girls dance on a stage.

When the group left around 2 a.m., a soldier found Brown in a patch of woods behind the bar. Lafortune said he heard a commotion and saw Brown being choked and punched and that the soldiers were trying to get Brown to pass out so they could move him.

Hands bound with a zip tie
The group carried Brown, who was more than 6 feet tall and weighed 250 pounds, to the edge of the woods. When he began to wake up, they kept him on the ground and bound his hands with a zip tie.

They put Brown in a vehicle and drove back to the barracks. Lafortune said he heard one of the other soldiers say, "You've got to breathe Brown, breathe."

They cut the zip ties off of his wrists and started CPR. Shortly after, an ambulance and military police arrived.

The soldiers charged are DeLong, of Dade City, Fla.; Sgt. Christopher Mignocchi, 22, of Hollywood, Fla.; Sgt. Kyle G. Saltz, 25, of Richland, Wash.; Sgt. Justin A. Boyle, 28, of Rocky Point, N.Y.; Spc. Ryan Sullivan, 23, of Mount Laurel, N.J.; Spc. Joseph A. Misuraca, 22, of Harper Woods, Mich.; and Pfc. Andrey Udalov, 21, of Brooklyn, N.Y.

The seven men are assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division's Headquarters and Headquarters Company, which was Brown's unit. The involuntary manslaughter charges carry a maximum 10-year prison sentence. Some of the soldiers also face other charges.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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