US soldier gets life for slaying sergeants in Iraq

August 10, 2011 - 2:30 PM

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — An Army sergeant based at Fort Stewart was sentenced Wednesday to life in a military prison without parole for shooting and killing his infantry squad leader and another U.S. soldier in Iraq after they criticized him for poor performance.

The military jury's sentence also calls for Sgt. Joseph Bozicevich, 41, of Minneapolis to be demoted in rank to private and to receive a dishonorable discharge. The same court-martial convicted him of premeditated murder May 25 in the slayings of Staff Sgt. Darris Dawson of Pensacola, Fla., and Sgt. Wesley Durbin of Dallas at a small patrol base outside Baghdad on Sept. 14, 2008.

The jury's sentence ended Bozicevich's court-martial 112 days after it began on April 20. The trial's final phase was delayed for more than two months after Bozicevich's lead defense attorney was injured in a skydiving accident during a weekend break.

"It allows us to turn the page finally. We've been stuck in this chapter for a long time," said Randy Durbin, father of one of the slain soldiers. "We miss our son and think about him all the time. Having to live our lives without him is very difficult, but that will never change."

Bozicevich's civilian defense attorney, Charles Gittins, said he accomplished his main priority by making sure Bozicevich was spared the death penalty. Under military law, premeditated murder is punishable by death but only if a military jury returns a unanimous conviction. At least one of the jurors in this case — how many was never reported — split with the majority when a verdict was returned in May.

Gittins said he doesn't consider the case to be over.

"We believe there to be numerous viable issues on which to base a successful appeal," he said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

During the trial, prosecutors argued that Bozicevich angrily opened fire on both Dawson and Durbin with his rifle because they were stripping him of his leadership role after he'd made a series of blunders.

Bozicevich testified that he fired in self-defense after the two soldiers threatened him with guns. He said he disarmed them with karate moves, then grabbed his rifle and fired blindly while fleeing. "I sprayed and I prayed," he told the jury.

With the death penalty off the table, the 12 jurors had two options for sentencing Bozicevich — life in prison with or without the possibility of parole.