Joseph Bozicevich faces a life sentence for the shootings of his squad leader and a fellow soldier. He plans to appeal.
FORT STEWART, GEORGIA - An Army sergeant from the Twin Cities was found guilty Wednesday of two counts of premeditated murder in the 2008 slayings of his squad leader and another U.S. soldier at a patrol base in Iraq. But Sgt. Joseph Bozicevich was spared the death penalty when the military jury didn't return a unanimous verdict.
Bozicevich, a 1987 graduate of Cretin-Derham Hall High School who grew up in Eagan, now faces a sentence of life in prison, either with or without the possibility of parole. The death penalty is an option in a court martial only when there's a unanimous guilty verdict for premeditated murder. The 12-member jury at Fort Stewart did not report exactly how it was split when it announced its verdict.
"It's a small victory in that it takes the death penalty off the table," Bozicevich's father, Joseph Bozicevich Sr., told the Star Tribune in a telephone interview.
"I'm numb," the father continued. "I wanted to see Joe, but the lawyers told me not to go into the room. He's very upset. He doesn't want to see anybody."
Bozicevich, 41, admitted during the trial that he shot Staff Sgt. Darris Dawson of Pensacola, Fla., and Sgt. Wesley Durbin of Dallas at a patrol base outside Baghdad on Sept. 14, 2008, after they criticized him for making mistakes in an unforgiving war zone. But he testified that he only opened fire because the two soldiers aimed rifles at his head and threatened to kill him if he didn't sign off on their written reports about him.
Prosecutors insisted that he grabbed his gun in anger after the men wounded his pride, when Dawson decided to strip the soldier of his leadership role of a four-man squad because of a series of battlefield blunders. Prosecutor Maj. Scott Ford told jurors Tuesday that Bozicevich snapped after that "final blow to his ego."
Bozicevich sat quietly and showed no emotion, while relatives and friends of the victims burst into cheers after the verdict was read and showered the military prosecutors with praise and hugs. Durbin's mother collapsed in relief in her chair after the jurors left the courtroom.
A sentencing hearing is set to begin Thursday.
Bozicevich's father, who lives in Albany, N.Y., but attended nearly all of the trial, said his son's defense team will claim the prosecution failed to disclose information in a timely manner and will appeal. The judge had previously chastised the prosecution for being "grossly negligent" to not have disclosed information that questioned the character of one of the victims, but denied a mistrial.
"I've been in the military justice field on and off for 24 year, but have never heard of anything like this," said Bozicevich Sr., a Vietnam veteran who retired as a lieutenant colonel. "But the way stories changed and the way holes developed in the prosecution's case just blew my mind.
The victims' families seemed content that Bozicevich will likely face decades behind bars.
"I'm just glad we finally got justice," said Latasha Dawson, Darris Dawson's wife.
Star Tribune staff writer Paul Levy and Associated Press military writer Russ Bynum in Savannah, Ga., contributed to this report.