Death penalty may be sought in Army attack

Family of slain Portlander watches case of accused soldier

The U.S. Army sergeant charged with carrying out a sneak attack against more than a dozen of his fellow soldiers at a base camp in Kuwait could become the first person to be executed by the military in more than 40 years.

Sgt. Hasan Akbar, 32, is accused of tossing grenades into three tents and shooting at soldiers as they ran for cover. Two officers died from injuries they suffered during the March 23 incident, including U.S. Air Force Major Gregg Stone, a Portland native.

Stone, a graduate of Benson High School and Oregon State University, died at a field hospital in Kuwait on March 25. He was 40.

Stone's sister, Tammy Hall, and half-brother, Frank Lenzi, have been following the Akbar case closely, but the two Portlanders chose not to comment on the case until the court proceedings are over.

Hall said, 'I don't think I'll ever really get over what happened to Gregg.'

After a pretrial Article 32 hearing last month, a military judge recommended that Akbar be tried in a court-martial for premeditated murder.

Akbar's commanding officers have until the end of July to decide whether to proceed with a court-martial.

Philip Cave, an expert on military law who practices in Alexandria, Va., said it is 'almost a certainty' that the military will pursue the death penalty against Akbar.

An execution wouldn't happen anytime soon. Pretrial preparations are expected to last for months, and if Akbar is found guilty, his appeals from death row could go on for years.

Eugene Fidell, president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Institute of Military Justice, predicted that the case would become 'one of the most highly contested courts-martial in history.'

Several soldiers have been sentenced to death in recent courts-martial, but no one has been executed since 1961. Previous death sentences were overturned on appeal because the military's statutes were found unconstitutional or the defense was found incompetent.

Published reports from Akbar's pretrial hearing in Fort Knox, Ky., described a strong case for the prosecution, with a couple of twists.

The strength of the military's case appeared to be empirical evidence such as:

• Forensics experts who linked Akbar's M-4 assault rifle to the bullets that killed Capt. Christopher Seifert, the second officer who died in the attack (Stone died from wounds caused by the grenade explosions).

• Evidence that three missing grenades were found in Akbar's gas mask after the murders.

• A fingerprint matching Akbar's, taken from a generator that was switched off to cut the lights before the surprise attack.

However, two witnesses for the defense, both soldiers, said Akbar was not the man they saw shooting Seifert in the back.

The defense also raised questions about whether Akbar was targeted as a suspect because of his religion. Akbar was born Mark Fidel Kools but changed his name when he converted to Islam. He was the only Muslim in his company.

A witness for the prosecution said Akbar told him he planned the attack because of his fears that U.S. soldiers were going to 'rape and pillage' Muslims.

Stone was one of the first casualties of the war in Iraq.

Initial media reports suggested that Camp Pennsylvania, a rear-base camp in Kuwait near the border with Iraq, had been infiltrated by terrorists.

The news that a U.S. soldier was the main suspect came as a shock to the nation Ñ and to Stone's family in Portland.

Stone graduated from Benson High in 1981 and joined the Air Force in 1983. His deployment to Kuwait was the first wartime assignment of his 20-year career in the military and the reserves.

Most recently, Stone lived in Boise, where he and his former wife, Tonya Stone, shared custody of their two sons, Alex, 11, and Joshua, 7.

Hall described her brother as 'the best dad I've ever seen.'

Stone was buried with full military honors April 17 at a ceremony in Arlington National Cemetery outside of Washington, D.C.

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