An Army sergeant accused in a deadly grenade attack on his fellow soldiers fell asleep twice Monday during a pretrial hearing, causing an annoyed military judge to order government attorneys to deal with the man’s sleep disorder.
Col. Patrick Parrish expressed frustration that he had to tell defense lawyers to wake up Sgt. Hasan Akbar as the defendant dozed at a courtroom table.
“It should have been something you brought to my attention,” Parrish said. “I shouldn’t have had to bring it to your attention.”
Akbar, 32, is charged with attacking a group of fellow 101st Airborne Division soldiers and others in Kuwait during the opening days of the Iraq war. Two people were killed and 14 were wounded.
It is the first time since the Vietnam War that a U.S. Army soldier has been prosecuted for the murder or attempted murder of another soldier during wartime, the Army has said.
Sleep apnea cited
Akbar’s attorneys argued that the judge should order the government to provide treatment to their client for sleep apnea, a condition that causes sufferers to periodically stop breathing while asleep and can often make people drowsy in a quiet or monotonous environment.
“If that treatment is not in place by the next proceeding, what can we do to keep him awake?” defense attorney Wazir Ali Muhammad Al-Hakk asked. “The court ordered us to see that he stays awake, and we believe that is beyond our power.”
In other developments, defense lawyers complained that everyone in the pool of potential Army jurors outranks Akbar, whose court-martial is set to begin July 12.
They also asked that the death-penalty trial be moved or that jurors be chosen from another branch of the military.
“This offense received worldwide coverage at the time when everyone’s attention was focused on what was happening in Kuwait,” defense lawyer Capt. David Coombs said. “Any Army member who heard this had a visceral response.”
Capt. Rob McGovern, one of three military prosecutors, said there was no evidence that any potential jurors have been influenced by the publicity. He said panel members already selected for the pool promised that they would not expose themselves to coverage of the case.
Parrish did not rule immediately on the defense motions and recessed the hearing until May 24.
Prosecutors allege that Akbar stole seven grenades from a Humvee he was guarding on March 23, 2003, and used them in the attack an hour later. Akbar’s lawyers have said there were no witnesses to the crime and Akbar was accused because he is Muslim.
Although the 101st Airborne is based at Fort Campbell, Ky., the case was transferred to Fort Bragg last year because the division was deployed in Iraq. The 101st has since returned.