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NORFOLK, Va. Navy prosecutors have asked a judge to delay the trials of two SEALs accused in connection with the alleged assault of a reported al-Qaida terrorist apparently because of evidence issues.
Documents were submitted Dec. 30 to the trial judge, Capt. Moira Modzelewski, requesting the government continue the special court-martial of Special Operator 1st Class (SEAL) Julio Antonio Huertas, scheduled to begin Jan. 11, and that of SO2 (SEAL) Matthew Vernon McCabe, scheduled for Jan. 19.
Hearings on those motions are expected to happen next week, lawyers for each SEAL told Navy Times.
The trial for a third SEAL, SO2 (SEAL) Jonathan Elliot Keefe, has already been continued until April 6 at the request of his lawyer.
McCabe is accused of assaulting alleged al-Qaida terrorist Ahmed Hashim Abed, who the U.S. thinks masterminded the 2004 ambush in Fallujah, Iraq, in which four Blackwater security contractors were hanged and burned.
All three SEALs are accused of making false statements in an alleged attempt to cover up the assault, as well as dereliction of duty. All three have pleaded not guilty to all charges.
"We're going to oppose [the prosecutors'] request on the grounds it interferes with my client's right to a speedy trial," said Neal Puckett, a retired Marine judge and lawyer who is representing McCabe. "When they arraigned my client, they were supposed to be ready to go to trial, and apparently they are not."
Huertas' attorney, Monica Lombardi, also plans to oppose the request on similar grounds.
Both Puckett and Lombardi say the government's request seems to be related to the evidence in the case where little has yet been released to the defense attorney's because of classification reviews.
Both Lombardi and Puckett say much of the government's case so far is based on the statements of a third class master-at-arms who claims to have witnessed the alleged assault.
Both lawyers say the five separate statements given by that sailor appear to conflict with each other. Neither lawyer could discuss the exact details of the statements.
"I have read five different statements by this person, and all appear to be different," Lombardi said.
The purported lack of evidence from the government has been identified as an issue since the arraignments started Dec. 7 and was the main reason that Keefe's lawyer, Greg McCormack, asked for a continuance at Keefe's Dec. 20 arraignment.
McCormack told reporters after the hearing that he was aware of photos and video of the alleged victim from both during and after the attack, but had yet to see them.
That's because, he said, much of the evidence is still undergoing classification review.
http://www.navytimes.com/news/2010/01/navy_SEAL_abusecase_010510w/">General: SEAL abuse charges justified