US soldier faces Iraq murder charges
The first U.S. soldier charged with murder in Iraq emerged from a military investigative hearing in Germany on Wednesday confident that he will not have to face a court-martial after his former commander praised him as "trustworthy and honest."
Capt. Rogelio M. Maynulet denies the charges of murder and dereliction of duty stemming from the close-range killing of a wounded "unidentified paramilitary member" following a car chase May 21 near Kufa, south of Baghdad.
Asked whether he was optimistic as he left the hearing at a barracks in Hanau, outside Frankfurt, Maynulet said: "Yes, I am."
The hearing, a military version of a U.S. grand jury investigation, is looking into the shooting of the man during the hunt for Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and will determine whether Maynulet is court-martialed.
The court picked up where it had left off June 28 in Baghdad, where the hearing was suspended after four days as Maynulet's 1st Armored Division returned home to Germany. Maynulet's command of a tank company was suspended May 25.
Dressed in the Army's green camouflage uniform, the 29-year-old listened intently to the proceedings in the plain, brown courtroom. His wife, Brooke — a Black Hawk helicopter pilot — was seated behind him and appeared nervous, at times chewing on her fingernails.
In the 20-minute session, defense attorney Capt. Will Helixon called Maynulet's former commander, Col. Michael Ryan, as a character witness.
"He is special, trustworthy and honest," Ryan testified, speaking by telephone from Washington.
Ryan, who commanded Maynulet at Fort Hood, Texas, and also in Bosnia, said the Chicago native was an officer on the rise.
"He was able to be sent to virtually every area (in Bosnia). He performed exceptionally," Ryan said. "I was impressed with him. I had absolutely no reservations that he would be an excellent officer."
Ryan also saw Maynulet in Iraq and spoke positively of his command capabilities there as well.
"In all cases, he had perfect interaction with his soldiers," Ryan said. "They respected him and they liked him."
Following Ryan's testimony, the hearings were put on hold again until Sept. 8 because a number of key witnesses were taking long leaves following their recent return from Iraq.
In the meantime, Maynulet said he himself planned to take leave, though he did not say where, and also continue his work with the 1st Armored Division's operations planning staff.
"I plan to do my job and continue to serve my country," he told The Associated Press.
On the day of the incident, Maynulet had been leading his tank company on a mission between Najaf and Kufa to capture or kill al-Sadr, who was wanted on an Iraqi arrest warrant in connection with the slaying of a rival cleric.
Maynulet's group spotted a speeding BMW and pursued it, the military said when announcing on July 2 the charges that were filed against Maynulet on June 12.
"A chase began, and U.S. forces shot at the vehicle. The driver and a passenger were wounded. Shortly thereafter, the wounded driver was shot and killed at close range," the military said.
Maynulet is accused of the driver's killing.
The military has not released further details of the incident, but a better picture is expected to emerge from the so-called Article 32 hearings, which Maynulet requested be open to the press.