THE AFTERMATH OF THE MURDER OF MAJOR GREGORY L. STONE
21 April 2005:
After less than three hours of deliberation Thursday, a military jury in North Carolina found Army Sergeant Hasan Akbar guilty of murdering fellow comrades, including Major Gregg Stone of Boise.
"I hope it brings closure for the family - it's been tough for them," Major Bill Iulianno, a friend of Gregg Stone.
This is the first time since the Vietnam era that an American has been convicted of killing fellow soldiers during a time of war.
The attack happened two years ago in Kuwait, as U.S. troops were preparing to move into Iraq.
It marked the first Idaho casualty of the Iraq war.
been almost exactly two years since Major Gregg Stone was murdered.
Thursday his killer's conviction was welcomed news to friends and comrades at Gowen Field.
"We were co-workers about ten years. I met Gregg at Mountain Home, we were stationed on active duty together and he flew B1s, I flew F-15s and we worked together in a wing weapons shop," said Major Iulianno.
Major Iulianno considered Gregg Stone a friend and a tough airman, but military training didn't prepare Major Stone for an attack from within.
"It's a dangerous job we do and we all accept the responsibilities involved, but when it comes from a fellow American in your own country, it's a tough thing to handle," Iulianno said.
Two years ago, in Kuwait, Army Sergeant Hasan Akbar used grenades and rifles to kill and wound his fellow soldiers. Captain Christopher Seifert died immediately. Major Stone died a couple days later. It was Iulianno who broke the news to Stone's family.
"I actually was the family liaison officer to Gregg's mom, and so I was there for notification and assisted her and her family through the funeral process, and was at Arlington for the burial at Arlington National Cemetery. It was one of the toughest things Ive ever done in my life, to go through that," Iulianno said.
A military jury at Fort Bragg convicted Akbar of murder and attempted murder.
"I hope it brings closure for the family - it's been tough for them," Iulianno said.
penalty phase of Akbar's trial begins on Monday with the same 15-member
jury. He faces a possible death sentence.
April 27, 2005
Families of 2 GIs Killed by Fellow Soldier Describe Their Grief
FORT BRAGG, North Carolina The families of two U.S. military officers killed in Kuwait by an American soldier gave emotional accounts Tuesday of life without their loved ones, as prosecutors wrapped up their case in the penalty phase of a court-martial seeking the death penalty for Army Sergeant Hasan Akbar.
Akbar, 34, was convicted last week of two counts of premeditated murder and three counts of attempted murder in a grenade and rifle attack that killed two and wounded 14 in an Army camp in Kuwait on March 23, 2003 two days before his unit moved into Iraq.
The 15-member military jury is expected to decide this week whether Akbar, who was raised in South Los Angeles, should be sentenced to death, life imprisonment without parole or life with the possibility of parole.
Akbar, a Muslim, has maintained that he believed U.S. soldiers were going to kill Muslim women and children in Iraq, and that in the weeks leading up to the war he was verbally attacked by soldiers who insulted his religion.
The government contends Akbar planned the assault and kept a computer diary of what he was going to do when the Army's 101st Airborne Division deployed overseas.
According to testimony in the trial, Akbar shut off lights in the camp, threw grenades into tents where officers were sleeping and sprayed them with rifle fire as they fled.
Betty Lenzi, the mother of 40-year-old Air Force Major Greg Stone, testified Tuesday that her son had focused on a military career since watching the first moon landing on television. He joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps at Oregon State University and entered the Air Force as an officer. He was an air liaison officer with the 101st Airborne Division.
"He was my life," she said of her son, who suffered 83 shrapnel wounds. "Now my life is gone."
Recalling his burial at Arlington National Cemetery, she said: "I never got a chance to see him in his casket. I look up instead and hope someday he will come home. I know he won't. But I hope he does."
She said her son, who left two boys, "was the heart of our family. He was our hero. That grenade tore him away from us."
Stone's father, Richard Stone, said his grief remained unbearable.
"You go through the grieving process and get on with life," he said. "But with Greg, there is not a day goes by I don't think about him. There's a broken link."
Stone's fiancee, Tammie Eslinger, described how a Colonel told her of the grenade attack by a fellow American two days before the 101st was to enter Iraq.
"I was angry, livid," she said. "Greg had worked his whole life to defend our country. When 9/11 happened, he was already in his uniform before I even got home.
"He fought to go to Iraq. That's what he wanted to do before he retired. And I was so angry that he was right there, just about to realize his dream, and it was taken from him."
The other officer killed was Army Captain Christopher Seifert, 27, who was shot in the back.
"I just could not believe that an American soldier could do this," said his mother, Helen Seifert. "It was betrayal."
She said that since her son died, she had had a difficult time keeping her job and that her husband had developed a tumor.
"I still look for the phone to ring because he always called no matter where he was in the world," she said.
Seifert's widow, Terri, said their only child, Benjamin, 2, referred to his father as his "first friend." She is proud to call herself an Army wife, she said, even though Akbar also wears the uniform.
"A sacred trust was broken that night," she said. "That night that band of brothers was broken. And I am terribly lonely. I have a wonderful family and lots of friends, but I never knew you could be in a room filled with people and still feel alone."
The defense is to open its case this morning.
wife keeps memories near heart
Family of Williams Twp. man killed by Sgt. Hasan Akbar testifies in penalty phase of court-martial.
FORT BRAGG, N.C. Two years after her husband's death, Terri Seifert keeps things in her home just the way they were so she can continue to feel his presence and hear his voice.
Christopher Scott Seifert's black Army beret lies on the same living room table where he left it before deploying for the Middle East. His toothbrush and razor are in their normal spot in the bathroom. And his answering machine message ''You've reached the home of Chris and Terri Seifert'' still greets callers.
''I am terribly lonely. I lost my best friend,'' Terri Seifert said Tuesday before the military jury that will decide the fate of Sergeant Hasan Akbar, who murdered her husband and another officer in a March 23, 2003, ambush at an Army base in Kuwait. ''I've lost my companionship.''
Terri Seifert, her mother-in-law, Helen Seifert, and the family of the other fatally wounded officer, Gregory ''Linus'' Stone, testified in the second day of the penalty phase in Akbar's general court-martial. After 15 witnesses Monday and seven witnesses Tuesday, prosecutors formally ended their portion of the hearing.
The defense will begin presenting witnesses today in hope of averting a death sentence. They plan to show Akbar is insane and could not have planned the attack as prosecutors successfully argued during the court-martial.
The 15-member jury is expected to begin deliberating Thursday to decide whether Akbar receives life in prison, life without parole or death for killing Seifert, 27, of Williams Township, and Stone, 40, of Boise, Idaho. Akbar was found guilty last Thursday for the attack.
Akbar, 34, a Muslim, is the first American solider since the Vietnam era to face a potential death sentence for killing his fellow soldiers during wartime. A death sentence must be a unanimous decision; the other sentences can be a two-thirds majority of jurors.
Under orders from the judge, Colonel Stephen Henley, witnesses were not allowed to address Akbar. They were not asked about their views on the pending sentence.
But for Terri Seifert, her in-laws and Stone's family, the circumstances surrounding their loved ones' deaths on the eve of combat with the Iraqi army has made grieving that much harder.
''I am proud to be a military wife,'' said Terri Seifert, a Bucks County native who resides in Clarksville, Tenn., with her 2-year-old son, Benjamin. ''[But] the band of brothers was broken that night.''
Akbar shot Seifert in the back, and he died as his fellow soldiers exhorted him to live for his wife and newborn son. Stone was shredded by a grenade as he slept in a tent. Stone, who was engaged and had two sons, Alexander, 11, and Joshua, 7, at the time, died five days later.
''The hardest part is the betrayal,'' said Seifert's mother, Helen, who with her husband, Tom, lives in the same home in Williams Township that Christopher grew up in.
Tom Seifert did not testify. Talking about how much he misses his son, who chose him for his best man at his wedding, would be too difficult, Helen Seifert said. ''When you lose a child, it is the hardest thing in the world,'' she testified. ''It is hard for me to be his wife, to see the hurt on his face and the disappointment.''
The other mother in the room who lost a son, Betty Lenzi, said Gregory Stone knew as a 7-year-old, after watching the Apollo moon landing on television, that he wanted to serve in the Air Force. ''He was the heart of our family, our hero, and that grenade tore him away from us,'' said Lenzi, of Ontario, Ore.
Tammie Eslinger of Meridian, Idaho, said the last time she saw her fiancé was November 24, 2002, before he shipped out for Fort Campbell, Ky., home of the 101st Airborne, which would later deploy to Kuwait with Akbar's unit, the 326th Engineer Battalion. But, before Stone left, Eslinger said, he said he should be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia if he did not make it back.
''Greg worked his whole life to defend our country,'' Eslinger sobbed. ''He wanted to serve his country [in combat] before he retired. I am so angry he didn't get to do it.''
Eslinger honored Stone's wish; he is interred at Arlington.
Seifert was buried in his dress blue uniform, the same type of uniform he wore when he married Terri, his college sweetheart, May 29, 1999, at Central Moravian Church in Bethlehem the same place as his viewing and funeral four years later.
Retired Lt. Col. Robert Wolfenden, Seifert's ROTC commander when Seifert attended Moravian College, organized his former cadet's funeral attire.
Wolfenden said the Army would not issue Seifert a purple heart medal because he was not killed by an enemy combatant, so Wolfenden bought his own purple heart. With the family's permission, Wolfenden said, ''I pinned the purple heart on him before they closed the casket.''
The 34-year-old soldier raised in South Los Angeles was convicted last week in the grenade and rifle attack that killed two officers and injured 14 others in an Army camp in Kuwait two days before the start of the invasion of Iraq in March, 2003.
The 15-member military jury is expected to decide this week whether Akbar should be sentenced to death or imprisoned for life, with or without the opportunity for parole.
Akbar, a devout Muslim, has maintained that he believed U.S. soldiers were going to kill Muslim women and children in Iraq and that in the weeks leading up to the war he was barraged by soldiers insulting his religion.
The government maintains that Akbar planned the attack, keeping a computer diary of what he planned to do when the 101st Airborne Division deployed overseas.
Betty Lenzi, the mother of 40-year-old Air Force Maj. Greg Stone, testified that he wanted an Air Force career when he was a youngster watching on television the first manned landing on the moon in 1969, and that he visited Army surplus stores. Stone enrolled in the Reserve officer training corps at Oregon State University and joined the Air Force as an officer. He was the father of two boys.
"He was my life," she said of her son, who suffered 83 grenade wounds. "Now my life is gone.
"I never got a chance to see him in his casket," she said, recalling his burial at Arlington National Cemetery. "I look up instead and hope someday he will come home. I know he won't. But I hope he does.
"He was the heart of our family. He was our hero," she added. "That grenade tore him away from us."
The victim's father, Richard Stone, said his grief was overbearing, even with the passing of two years. "You go through the grieving process and get on with life," he said. "But with Greg, there is not a day goes by I don't think about him. There's a broken link."
Stone's fiancé, Tammie Eslinger, described how a colonel called and told her of the grenade attack by a fellow American soldier.
"I was angry. Livid," she said. "Greg had worked his whole life to defend our country. When 9/11 happened he was already in his uniform before I even got home.
"He fought to go to Iraq. That's what he wanted to do before he retired. And I was so angry that he was right there, just about to realize his dream, and it was taken from him. He never got to go into country, and he was so close."
The other officer killed was Army Capt. Christopher Seifert, 27, who was shot in the back.
His mother, Helen Seifert, said he was her only son and that Chris, after his military wedding, had one son, who was 4 months old when his father was killed.
"I just could not believe that an American soldier could do this," she said. "....It was betrayal."
She said her son was buried near their home in Pennsylvania.
"At his grave, there's one of us there every day. In the summertime, people say it looks like a garden, because it's one of the things we can do for our son. When you lose a child, it's the hardest thing."
She said she has had a difficult time keeping her job and her husband has suffered a tumor all after their son's death.
"I still look for the phone to ring because he always called, no matter where he was in the world," she said.
His widow, Terri Seifert, said their son Benjamin, now 2, refers to his father as his "first friend." Their home is filled with photos and other mementoes of him. She said she was still proud to call herself an Army wife, even though Akbar wears the uniform.
"A sacred trust was broken that night. That night that band of brothers was broken," she said. "And I am terribly lonely. I have a wonderful family and lots of friends, but I never knew you could be in a room filled with people and still feel alone."
Retired Army Lt. Col. Robert Wolfenden, who taught Seifert military science in Pennsylvania, said he was not only angry that his former student had been killed by Akbar, but also that the death did not automatically merit Seifert a Purple Heart because the wounds were not caused by an enemy in combat.
Undeterred, Wolfenden said he obtained a medal and placed it on Seifert's body before his casket was closed.
The judge, Army Col. Stephen Henley, dismissed the jurors for the day with copies of Akbar's diary as well as other records that defense attorneys want them to review because the evidence might persuade them to spare his life.
The defense lawyers open their case for a life sentence Wednesday morning.
The Portland family of a soldier killed in a grenade attack by another soldier, reacted to news Friday that a military jury has sentenced Army Sergeant Hasan Akbar to death.
Air Force Maj. Gregory Stone was one of two soldiers killed and fourteen wounded by Akbar in Kuwait. He attacked them in March 2003, two days before they were scheduled to move into Iraq.
Akbar, a Muslim, says he believed US solders were going to kill Muslim women and children. Frank Lenzi, Major Stone's brother, says he's pleased with the sentence.
Frank Lenzi: I'm glad this thing is over and I'm glad that he is not going to have any chance of getting out. One of those possibilities was life with parole and I'm glad obviously that that didn't happen.
graduated from Benson High School and Oregon State University. The government
contends that Akbar planned the assault. His death sentence is subject
to automatic appeal.
FORT BRAGG, N.C. A military jury, unmoved by a brief apology Army Sgt. Hasan Akbar made from the witness stand, sentenced him to death yesterday for killing two U.S. officers and wounding 14 other soldiers in a nighttime grenade and rifle attack as the United States was on the verge of war with Iraq.
If the sentence is upheld, Akbar, 34, will be moved to the military death row at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where the Muslim from south Los Angeles will join five other soldiers awaiting execution by lethal injection.
He is the first soldier since the Vietnam War to be convicted of killing a comrade during wartime. The last military execution was 44 years ago.
Akbar turned on his fellow soldiers March 23, 2003, tossing grenades into officers' tents and shooting at them as they ran from the burning compound in Kuwait. Army Capt. Chris Seifert, 27, and Air Force Maj. Gregory Stone, 40, were killed.
Spending less than a minute on the witness stand yesterday, Akbar had but 31 words to say: "I want to apologize for the attack that occurred. I felt that my life was in jeopardy, and I had no other options. I also want to ask you for forgiveness."
Testimony showed that Akbar felt insulted by fellow soldiers who disparaged Muslims as the United States ramped up for war in the Middle East. When he was arrested shortly after his attack, Akbar said he feared U.S. forces were going to rape and kill Muslim women in Iraq.
Defense lawyer Maj. David Coombs had asked for a more lenient sentence of life with no parole, contending the command staff knew about Akbar's problems. "What was he doing in Kuwait? Why was he in the Army?" Coombs asked. He said officers should have removed Akbar from the service. Coombs also said that Akbar came from a "very poor family," that he did not have loving parents and that there was evidence of child molestation in the home. He said Akbar grew up in a racially and religiously intolerant area.
of Seifert and Stone called the death sentence appropriate. Seifert's widow,
Theresa, said: "Sergeant Akbar is a nonentity to me. What Sergeant Akbar
said [in court] is irrelevant to me."
'Hasan Akbar stole my love, my family, my dreams and my future ... but he could never steal my spirit'
Fiancée of slain major welcomes death penalty for American soldier found guilty of murdering battle buddies
Sergeant Hasan Akbar stood at attention. He showed no emotion as a military jury sentenced him to death for an attack that killed two of his battle buddies. Akbar had earlier given a brief, barely audible apology for the grenade and rifle attack on his own comrades during the opening days of the Iraq invasion.
He could have been sentenced to life in prison with or without parole for the early morning March 2003 attack, which also wounded 14 fellow members of the army's 101st Airborne Division at Camp Pennsylvania in Kuwait.
The 15-person military jury, which last week took just two-and-a-half hours to convict Akbar of premeditated murder and attempted premeditated murder, deliberated for about seven hours in the sentencing phase.
After jurors reached a verdict, they voted on whether to reconsider the decision after one juror asked that they do so.
The sentence will be reviewed by a commanding officer and automatically appealed. If Akbar is executed, it will be by lethal injection.
"I want to apologise for the attack that occurred. I felt that my life was in jeopardy, and I had no other options. I also want to ask you for forgiveness," Akbar told the jury before it deliberated in the sentencing phase.
Akbar (34) spoke for less than a minute, delivering an unsworn statement that could not be cross-examined. He spoke in such a low voice that even prosecutors sitting nearby had trouble hearing.
While the defence contends Akbar was too mentally ill to plan the attack, they have never disputed that he threw grenades into troop tents in the early morning darkness and then fired on soldiers in the ensuing chaos. Army captain Chris Seifert (27) and air force major Gregory Stone (40) were killed.
Prosecutors say Akbar launched the attack at his camp - days before the soldiers were to move into Iraq - because he was concerned about US troops killing fellow Muslims in the Iraq war.
"He is a hate-filled, ideologically driven murderer," chief prosecutor Lieutenant Colonel Michael Mulligan said. He added that Akbar wrote in his diary in 1997. "My life will not be complete unless America is destroyed."
Another entry said, "I will have to decide to kill my Muslim brothers fighting for Saddam Hussein or my battle buddies. I am hoping to get into a position so I don't have to take any crap from anyone anymore."
Elsewhere, he wrote, "I may not have killed any Muslims, but being in the army is the same thing. I may have to make a choice very soon on who to kill."
Akbar is the first American since the Vietnam era to be prosecuted on charges of murdering a fellow soldier during wartime.
"Hasan Akbar has robbed me of so many things," Tammie Eslinger, Stone's fiancée, said after the sentencing.
"He stole my love, my family, my dreams and my future. But he could never steal my spirit."
Seifert's widow, Theresa, said she was satisfied with the military justice system. She called Akbar "a nonentity to me".
Defence attorney Major David Coombs told jurors that a sentence of life without parole would allow Akbar to be treated for mental illness and possibly rehabilitated.
"Death is an absolute punishment, a punishment of last resort," Coombs said.
A defence psychiatrist testified that although Akbar was legally sane and understood the consequences of his attack, he suffered from forms of paranoia and schizophrenia.
Akbar's father, John Akbar, has said his son complained in vain to his superiors about religious and racial harassment before the attack.
The defence never introduced any witnesses to testify about any such harassment.
John Akbar was not in the courtroom for the verdict. He emerged from a meeting with his son in tears, and declined to comment.
given a death sentence, Akbar will join five others on the military's death
row at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. The last US military execution was in