WIVES TALK IN FRAG CASE

Widows of victims take the stand; Schaghticoke man faces death penalty

ROBERT GAVIN STAFF WRITER
Section: Main,  Page: A1

Date: Friday, October 24, 2008

FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- The visibly shaken widow of an Army captain said Thursday she believes Staff Sgt. Alberto Martinez of Schaghticoke "murdered my husband" in Iraq -- and she does not like the way he has been looking at her in the courtroom.


"Occasionally he makes eye contact with me,'' Siobhan Esposito told a military prosecutor on the first day of testimony in Martinez's double-murder trial, "and it's with contempt."


Her husband, Capt. Phillip Esposito, 30, of Suffern, and 1st Lt. Louis Allen, 34, of Milford, Pa., were on a military base in Tikrit, Iraq, when a devastating Claymore mine exploded outside Esposito's living quarters and office about 10 p.m. on June 7, 2005. The men, who had been playing the board game Risk at the time, died the next day.


Martinez, 41, faces lethal injection if convicted at the court martial of fragging -- the term for killing fellow solders. After several false starts, opening arguments were given Wednesday, followed by the testimony.


Capt. Esposito's widow, who now lives in Virginia, battled tears as she testified in the military courthouse, at Fort Bragg just outside Fayetteville. She last spoke to her husband, with whom she has a 5-year-old daughter named Madeline, on June 6, she said, and last saw him the prior New Year's Eve.


During the cross-examination, Martinez' defense attorney, Maj. Marc Cipriano, asked Esposito if she remembered wanting investigators to interview "everyone" after her husband was killed. The defense has tried to portray the murder investigation as a rush to judgment against Martinez.


Esposito testified her husband never mentioned anything about his work in Iraq, or about Martinez. But she said she has since heard much evidence about Martinez's alleged guilt, adding, "I believe he murdered my husband."


Her statement that Martinez looked at her came after Lt. Bradley Huestis, one of the three military prosecutors at the trial, asked if she had ever received a message from the defendant. Military Judge Col. Stephen Henley allowed the widow to to answer, but not until the judge had the 14-person panel leave the room briefly.


Allen's widow, Barbara Allen, next testified, but said nothing about Martinez on witness stand. But after the court session, when asked by reporters, she said there had been a "few occasions where he actually walked up to me" and looked her up and down. She said she brought it to the attention of military police, who took measures to avoid similar interactions.


Still, Robert Allen, the lieutenant's father from Orange County, said he encountered Martinez in a courthouse restroom.


"I was standing there in the bathroom washing my hands and I realized he was behind me in the urinal," he said, "and Phil's father was there too ... we shouldn't be in the same room...it was very difficult to stand there, as close as I am to you, with the guy who killed my son."


Earlier on the witness stand, Barbara Allen had explained how she last saw her husband, the father of their four young boys, that Memorial Day weekend.


The widows were followed by several prosecution witnesses, including Maj. David J. Palmeri, who had been at the base, a former palace of Saddam Hussein, and knew Martinez and Esposito since they were at Fort Drum in New York. Upon questioning, he delved into what prosecutors identify as the motive behind the murders -- that Martinez allegedly thought Esposito would strip him in rank and end his career.


Palmeri said Esposito viewed Martinez as intelligent and hard-working, but said the captain saw continuing problems in Martinez's job as a sergeant in charge of supplies. Palmeri said Martinez was good at getting equipment to soldiers, but struggled with accounting and paperwork, a bone of contention for Esposito.


Martinez became a "continuing problem ... occupying a good deal of Capt. Esposito's time," Palmeri testified.


At one point, he said, Martinez "wanted to write off missing equipment as a field loss." And while he had been dealing with Esposito through a lieutenant, Luis Badillo, that officer's duties changed and Martinez was dealing directly with Esposito and was uncomforable with it.


He said Martinez started taking the criticism personally, saying he believed the captain was "personally screwing with him."


Robert Gavin can be reached at 434-2403 or by e-mail at gavin@timesunion.com.





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Widows of slain officers testify at Martinez trial


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FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- The visibly shaken widow of an Army captain said Thursday she believes Staff Sgt. Alberto Martinez of Schaghticoke "murdered my husband" in Iraq -- and she does not like the way he has been looking at her in the courtroom.


"Occasionally he makes eye contact with me,'' Siobhan Esposito told a military prosecutor on the first day of testimony in Martinez's double-murder trial, "and it's with contempt."


Her husband, Capt. Phillip Esposito, 30, of Suffern, and 1st Lt. Louis Allen, 34, of Milford, Pa., were on a military base in Tikrit, Iraq, when a devastating Claymore mine exploded outside Esposito's living quarters and office about 10 p.m. on June 7, 2005. The men, who had been playing the board game Risk at the time, died the next day.


Martinez, 41, faces lethal injection if convicted at the court martial. After several false starts, opening arguments were given Wednesday, followed by the testimony.


Capt. Esposito's widow, who now lives in Virginia, battled tears as she testified in the military courthouse, at Fort Bragg just outside Fayetteville. She last spoke to her husband, with whom she has a 5-year-old daughter named Madeline, on June 6, she said, and last saw him the prior New Year's Eve.


During the cross-examination, Martinez' defense attorney, Maj. Marc Cipriano, asked Esposito if she remembered wanting investigators to interview "everyone" after her husband was killed. The defense has tried to portray the murder investigation as a rush to judgment against Martinez.


Esposito testified her husband never mentioned anything about his work in Iraq, or about Martinez. But she said she has since heard much evidence about Martinez's alleged guilt, adding, "I believe he murdered my husband."


Her statement that Martinez looked at her came after Lt. Bradley Huestis, one of the three military prosecutors at the trial, asked if she had ever received a message from the defendant. Military Judge Col. Stephen Henley allowed the widow to to answer, but not until the judge had the 14-person panel leave the room briefly.


Allen's widow, Barbara Allen, next testified, but said nothing about Martinez on witness stand. But after the court session, when asked by reporters, she said there had been a "few occasions where he actually walked up to me" and looked her up and down. She said she brought it to the attention of military police, who took measures to avoid similar interactions.


Still, Robert Allen, the lieutenant's father from Orange County, said he encountered Martinez in a courthouse restroom.


"I was standing there in the bathroom washing my hands and I realized he was behind me in the urinal," he said, "and Phil's father was there too ... we shouldn't be in the same room...it was very difficult to stand there, as close as I am to you, with the guy who killed my son."


Earlier on the witness stand, Barbara Allen had explained how she last saw her husband, the father of their four young boys, that Memorial Day weekend.


The widows were followed by several prosecution witnesses, including Maj. David J. Palmeri, who had been at the base, a former palace of Saddam Hussein, and knew Martinez and Esposito since they were at Fort Drum in New York. Upon questioning, he delved into what prosecutors identify as the motive behind the murders -- that Martinez allegedly thought Esposito would strip him in rank and end his career.


Palmeri said Esposito viewed Martinez as intelligent and hard-working, but said the captain saw continuing problems in Martinez's job as a sergeant in charge of supplies. Palmeri said Martinez was good at getting equipment to soldiers, but struggled with accounting and paperwork, a bone of contention for Esposito.


Martinez became a "continuing problem ... occupying a good deal of Capt. Esposito's time," Palmeri testified.


He said Martinez started taking it personal, saying he believed the captain was "personally screwing with him."


Palmeri testified he explained to Martinez there was nothing personal but did note Esposito did, in fact, eventually consider replacing Martinez in the supply role. The prosecution has noted that Esposito asked Martinez to log his every work move and barred him from the supply room without an escort.


Robert Gavin can be reached at 434-2403 or by e-mail at gavin@timesunion.com.