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Sgt. said ‘kill me’ as leaders lay dying

FORT STEWART, Ga. — “Just f—— kill me! Just f—— kill me!”
Sgt. Joseph C. Bozicevich was yelling as he lay facedown on the ground, restrained by at least two other soldiers at Patrol Base Jurf at Sahkr, Iraq.
Nearby, the two soldiers Bozicevich is accused of shooting lay bleeding as medics and fellow soldiers worked furiously to save them.
Staff Sgt. Darris J. Dawson, a 24-year-old squad leader from Pensacola, Fla., and Sgt. Wesley R. Durbin, who, like Bozicevich, was a team leader, later died from their wounds. Durbin, 26, was from Hurst, Texas.
Bozicevich, 39, of Minneapolis, faces two counts of premeditated murder.
It was Sept. 14, 2008, at a small, company-sized patrol base inhabited by soldiers from A Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, and 3rd Infantry Division.
On Monday, details of the incident were discussed publicly for the first time as the Article 32 for Bozicevich began in the courthouse on post.
Several soldiers from the company testified for the prosecution Monday that the shootings, which took place between 1 and 2 a.m. Sept. 14, came after Dawson and Durbin planned to counsel Bozicevich for losing a 40mm grenade for his M-203 grenade launcher, being disrespectful toward his squad leader Dawson, and for leaving behind one of his soldiers during a foot patrol.
Earlier in the day, after the soldiers, who belonged to the company’s 2nd Platoon, arrived at the patrol base from Forward Operating Base Iskandiriyah, several soldiers testified that they heard a commotion about Bozicevich losing a 40mm grenade.
According to testimony, Bozicevich had said one of his soldiers took the grenade; others thought he lost the sensitive item.
Staff Sgt. Michael Muci testified that later in the day he heard an argument between Dawson and Bozicevich.
First Lt. Ryan Daly, the platoon leader, testified that the last straw was when the soldiers went on a foot patrol and Bozicevich, who was supposed to lead the patrol, got lost and later failed to round up his soldier, Spc. David Basch.
“At the end, leaving a soldier behind, that was kind of it,” Daly testified.
Basch testified that the patrol stopped at the Iraqi police station across the street from the patrol base. When they arrived, Basch said Bozicevich told him to pull security at the back of the building. He later realized, when he saw helmeted heads walking out of the police station gates, that the patrol was leaving.
“I heard Sergeant Dawson say, ‘Who is that? Who left their soldier behind?'” Basch said, adding that he ran to catch up with the group.
When the soldiers returned to the patrol base after 11 p.m. Sept. 13, Dawson met with Daly and 1st Sgt. Xaver Perdue, who at the time was the platoon sergeant.
The three decided to counsel Bozicevich, put him on duty at the Joint Security Station on the patrol base and place him on Durbin’s team.
Daly said Dawson appeared to be “fired up” and ready to counsel Bozicevich.
After 1 a.m., Spc. Michael McDaniel testified that he woke up to use the bathroom when he heard what sounded like someone kicking a trash can. When he realized it was gunfire, McDaniel said he woke up the other soldiers in his squad and ran out toward the front gate.
“I saw Sergeant Dawson laying on the ground, I thought it was an Iraqi,” McDaniel testified.
He kept running toward the gate, where he saw “someone in ACUs” and realized it was Bozicevich. Another soldier was already restraining him.
“I heard Boz yelling ‘Just kill me, just kill me,'” he testified.
By this time, other soldiers had arrived at the scene and were trying to help Dawson, McDaniel said.
“He was flinching from the pain,” he said. “He was moaning and yelling in pain.”
Saleem Faisal Abdul-Hadi, an Iraqi soldier stationed at the JSS, testified through an interpreter that he was on duty with Bozicevich at the JSS before he left around 1 a.m. to wake up his replacement. During the three hours the two were on duty together, Abdul-Hadi testified that Bozicevich seemed tired and angry, and at one point he pounded the table with his fist.
When Abdul-Hadi left to get his replacement, he heard 10 to 12 shots and stepped outside his living area to see what was happening, he testified.
He said he saw somebody running and screaming from the area of the JSS, and another person chasing him and shooting at him.
The soldiers’ interpreter, Hiader Hamze Muter, said he saw the two men running and realized that the shooter was Bozicevich.
The man in the front fell and the shooter stood over him and shot him again, Abdul-Hadi said.
That’s when two soldiers came up, with their weapons drawn, screaming at the shooter to put down his weapon, he said. The shooter dropped his weapon, raised his hands over his head and the soldiers pushed him to the ground.
Haitham Abass Zekair, another Iraqi soldier, testified that he saw the two figures running from his position in one of the guard towers to the patrol base.
He also testified that the shooter fired his weapon four or five times after the man he was chasing was on the ground, and the shooter was apprehended shortly afterward.
“Everybody was there and everybody was screaming,” he said.
Muter later identified the soldier on the ground as Dawson. However he said he did not hear Bozicevich fire any shots after Dawson fell down.
Sgt. Darren Brown said the soldiers initially thought their patrol base was being attacked and it wasn’t long before he heard screams for a medic. When he got to the scene, Brown said he saw Bozicevich on the ground and another sergeant sitting on top of him to hold him down.
Brown said he went to help subdue Bozicevich, putting zip cuffs on his legs and tightening the one around his wrists. Brown said the other sergeant continued to straddle Brown, who is about 6-feet-2-inches, while he put one knee on Bozicevich’s upper back and the other knee on the back of his neck.
“People were walking up and yelling questions to Boz,” Brown said. “‘Why did you do it, Boz?’ The accused smiled and said, ‘You know why.'”
Four or five times, Bozicevich said, “My career is over with,” Brown testified.
About 10 feet away, medics continued to work on Dawson, Brown said.
Staff Sgt. Anthony Matekovich, the sergeant of the guard at the patrol base, said he heard Dawson speak.
“Sergeant Dawson was saying, ‘Why? Why? Why did you do that?'” Matekovich testified.
“I saw Sergeant Dawson bleeding to death,” Basch testified.
In the midst of the commotion, the interpreter, Muter, ran up to the group and told them another soldier was wounded and he was in the Joint Security Station.
Daly, Perdue, Matekovich and a couple other soldiers ran to the JSS, where they found Durbin slumped in the corner of the front room.
Durbin was curled up, almost in a fetal position “like he was trying to protect himself,” Perdue said.
Matekovich said Durbin was lying in a “big puddle” of blood and there was battery acid from one of the Iraqi radios all over the floor.
“He was on the floor and non-responsive,” Daly said. “He lost an incredible amount of blood. He was in very bad shape so we were very scared.”
Matekovich said Durbin had a gunshot wound to his lower left chest and appeared to be bleeding from the artery on the right side of his neck. The soldiers felt a faint pulse in Durbin and gave him CPR, put an IV into his chest and put gauze and applied pressure to his neck, Matekovich said. They also tried putting a tube down his throat to help him breathe, but they couldn’t properly insert the tube, he said.
Outside the JSS, Dawson appeared to be responding to the medics and seemed to be in good shape, Matekovich said.
By this time, Perdue back outside with Bozicevich, who was still being restrained by his fellow soldiers.
“This guy just killed two of my soldiers,” Perdue testified. “I snapped.”
Bozicevich was yelling “kill me,” so Perdue said he put his weapon to Bozicevich’s head and said, “I’m going to give you exactly what you want.” Bozicevich went silent, Perdue said.
Perdue broke down in tears on the witness stand as he described how one of his soldiers pushed the muzzle away from Bozicevich’s head and asked Perdue to think about his wife and children before he pulled the trigger.
“In my eyes, once he killed Sergeant Dawson and Sergeant Durbin, he became the enemy,” Perdue said when questioned by defense attorney Charles Gittins. “[Bozicevich] knew martial arts, he’s a bigger guy, he was still fighting. I didn’t think he was going to stop, so I was going to stop him.”
Perdue said he decided to give his weapon to Matekovich and asked soldiers from 3rd Platoon to guard Bozicevich.
“I knew if I was that emotional, the rest of the platoon, once they knew what had happened, they were going to kill him,” Perdue said about Bozicevich.
Meanwhile, the soldiers were unable to get a medevac helicopter to the patrol base because of bad weather and poor visibility, so they loaded Dawson and Durbin into MRAP vehicles and drove them to FOB Iskandiriyah, about 30 minutes away, according to testimony. Durbin died shortly after the shooting, and Dawson died after he was taken from FOB Iskandiriyah to the 86th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad’s Green Zone.
The soldiers put Bozicevich in a makeshift holding area they had built using concertina wire, where he stayed until a scout platoon arrived from FOB Iskandiriyah to take him away.
Bozicevich has been in confinement since the incident.
At the hearing, Daly described his platoon’s reaction to the shootings.
“We thought someone tried to rush the gate,” he said, “but it was one of our own guys.”
The Article 32 resumes at 8 a.m. Tuesday. After the Article 32, Hargis will submit his recommendations to Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo, commanding general of 3rd Infantry Division and the convening authority for the proceedings, who will decide if Bozicevich will face a court-martial.