Norfolk, Va. (CNSNews.com) – Though trial dates have been set for mid-January, defense attorneys for three Navy SEALs charged with offenses arising from the alleged punching a terror suspect in the mid-section said at an arraignment on Monday in Norfolk, Va., that the government still had not provided any evidence in the case.
If defense attorneys do not get the evidence soon enough to review it, it might raise the need for a delay in the trial date, said Monica Lombardi, civilian attorney for Julio Antonio Huertas Jr., 28, who pleaded innocent in military court at the Norfolk Naval Station on Monday. His trial date is set for Jan. 11, 2010.
Lombardi told CNSNews.com that the government provided no time window as to when the evidence will be provided. She told reporters it is “highly unusual” to wait this long for evidence and predicted the trial might be delayed if the defense does not have adequate time to review the evidence.
Matthew Vernon McCabe, 24, deferred his plea at the arraignment on Monday. His civilian attorney Neal Puckett said it is routine for him not to offer a plea for his clients at the arraignment.
“The problem will be whether they provide the evidence soon enough to give us enough time to prepare for the trial,” Puckett told CNSNews.com after the hearing. Typically evidence is provided before the arraignment, he said. Nevertheless, he still expects to be able to go to trial on Jan. 19.
Lt. Col. Holly Silkman, spokeswoman for the Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT), told CNSNews.com last week that the military was still reviewing the evidence in the case to determine whether it contained classified information.
The charge sheet was only made available to the public late on Friday evening.
The terror suspect who accused the SEAL of punching him in the mid-section is Ahmed Hashim Abed, alleged architect of the murder of four Blackwater USA security guards in Fallujah, Iraq in 2004. The bodies of the four Americans were burned and hanged from a bridge.
The three SEALS are McCabe, 24; Huertas, 28 and Jonathon Elliott Keefe, 25. Keefe’s arraignment was continued.
Huertas is charged with impeding an investigation, dereliction of duty, and making a false official statement. McCabe was charged with assault, dereliction of duty, and making a false official statement. Keefe’s arraignment was continued. He is charged with dereliction of duty and making a false official statement.
The alleged incident happened on Sept. 1 at Camp Schweidler in Iraq, when Abed was already in captivity. If convicted in the special court martial, the SEALs face a maximum penalty of one year in military confinement, forfeiture of two-thirds of their pay for one year, and a discharge for bad conduct.
The three SEALs are facing misdemeanor charges. The military first sought non-judicial punishment, called a “captain’s mast.”
A “captain’s mast” would have spared them any chance of imprisonment but would have severely harmed or possibly ended their military careers, defense attorneys said. So the SEALs refused the “captain’s mast” and opted for a court martial to clear their name, even though the punishment from a court-martial conviction could be more severe.
“It’s hard to be labeled a hero--you heard the list of medals--two tours in Iraq, one tour in Afghanistan,” Lombardi told reporters after the court hearing. “He [Huertas] is confident in his defense team and confident justice will be served.”