No double jeopardy deemed for Watada
The officer's father says the ruling was 'fully expected'
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The father of a Hawaii-born soldier who refused to go to Iraq with his unit last year said he "fully expected" a military judge would rule that his son could be prosecuted twice for the same crime.
Lt. Col. John Head ruled Friday that 1st Lt. Ehren Watada could be retried without violating his constitutional right against double jeopardy.
"We expect him to deny all motions the defense brought in," Robert Watada said, comparing the last pretrial hearing for his son to a "Salem witch trial."
Lawyers for Ehren Watada, 29, who contends the Iraq war is illegal, will go to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals in Arlington, Va., this week to appeal the ruling, the elder Watada said.
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The judge who declared a mistrial in the court-martial of 1st Lt. Ehren Watada has ruled that retrying him won't violate his constitutional right not to be prosecuted again for a crime of which he has been acquitted.
Watada, 29, refused to be deployed to Iraq with his unit last year.
Watada's lawyers filed notice they will appeal the double jeopardy ruling to the Army Court of Criminal appeals in Arlington, Va.
The developments are likely to delay the start of Watada's second trial, which had been scheduled to begin July 23.
Watada, who is based at Fort Lewis in Washington state, continues to perform administrative duties.
Honolulu attorney Eric Seitz, who was Watada's defense lawyer until March, said yesterday he wasn't surprised at Lt. Col. John Head's ruling at a pretrial hearing Friday.
"I would expect they (the appeals court) would take the issues far more seriously than Judge Head is capable of doing. I would never expect Judge Head to reverse himself but would certainly expect the Appellate Court to do that," Seitz said. "He was not the most competent judge I've met in my life."
The military judge declared a mistrial when he presided over the first trial in February. Head questioned whether Watada fully understood a document he signed admitting to elements of the charges against him.
Watada said he understood what he signed but wasn't admitting guilt because he believed he had a defense -- that the war was illegal.
Prosecutors argued that the Hawaii-born Army officer abandoned his soldiers and disgraced himself and the service by accusing the Army of war crimes and denouncing the Bush administration as conducting an illegal war based on lies.
If convicted, he could be sentenced to prison for six years and be dishonorably discharged.
Seitz said after Head declared a mistrial that a second trial would amount to double jeopardy.
Watada hired Kenneth Kagan and James Lobsenz as his new lawyers in March, saying he wanted local representation for his appeal.
Kagan argued Friday that Head should step away from the case because the judge has created the impression that his mind is made up on some issues.
Head denied he has any preconceived notions and refused to disqualify himself from the case. He is expected to give a written decision early this week.
The judge is also expected to rule on the admissibility of evidence, including whether Watada may call witnesses to testify about he legality of the war.
"My own assessment is that it (the military court proceeding) was very much like a Salem witch trial," Ehren's father, Robert Watada, told the Star-Bulletin yesterday by telephone . "We fully expected this."
He said the judge denied most of the defense team's motions. "He hasn't ruled on some motions, but we expect him to deny all motions," including free speech motions, Watada said. "Basically, the judge said the military has a different set of standards under the law."
A new court-martial date hasn't been set but probably will be in October, Watada said.
Robert Watada said he and his wife, Rosa Sakanishi*, sold their Honolulu home and moved to a farm in Pleasant Hill, Ore., about two months ago.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
» Rosa Sakanishi is the wife of Robert Watada, whose son, 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, is being court-martialed for refusing to deploy to Iraq last year. A story on Page A9 on Sunday incorrectly said that Carolyn Ho is Robert Watada's wife. Ho is Ehren Watada's mother and Robert Watada's ex-wife.