Thursday, March 31, 2011

Fellow soldiers knew in advance of "hit" on Sergeant

All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent. - Thomas Jefferson

Belton – Corporal Jeremy Jacobs looked sheepish – ashamed of himself – as he walked out of 264th District Court and passed the family of Sgt. Ryan Sullivan.

He had just finished spending several grueling hours on the witness stand Thursday while defense attorneys grilled both he and his wife Kristy about how they knew far in advance about a plan to carry out a “hit” on Sgt. Sullivan, a threat voiced not once, but several times by John Valdez, one of three co-conspirators standing trial for a murder-for-hire scheme to obtain $100,000 from the Sergeant's Soldier's Group Life Insurance benefits.

They did nothing about it, told no one, including the police, Jeremy's commanding officer, the Army's Criminal Investigation Division – no one. Why? “I was afraid of John Valdez,” he told jurors.

Even after the killing had been accomplished during the early morning hours of October 11, he testified, he remained silent. Kyle Moesch, a former room mate and fellow medic in the same Mechanized Cavalry unit, came to his home in Killeen where he and his wife shared their quarters with John Valdez and said, “Sully is dead. He's been killed.”

Cpl. Jacobs said he hustled him out of the house, put him in the car and drove him back to Ft. Hood and his barracks. Again, he testified that he feared for his life based on threats made by John Valdez. “I took very seriously the threats he made against me and Christy...He said we should keep quiet about it. Something could happen to us, too.”

Mr. Valdez's co-counsel Bucky Harris, elicited testimony from him that the tight-knit group of soldiers, a “rat pack” who partied together often on Austin's 6th Street bar scene, first became aware of the enmity between Mr. Valdez and Sgt. Sullivan during a late night debacle on the town when Mr. Valdez and the sergeant “kind of got in each other's face.”

As it turns out, they were angry about each others' relations with Katie Briggs, a.k.a. Arianna Benitez, also as the model and professional escort Marissa Miller, the name she used when she first attracted a youthful “Sully” Sullivan through internet lonely hearts advertisements.

Cpl. Jacobs told an eerie tale of how while on a training mission to Ft. Polk, Mr. Valdez asked about drugs that paralyze a patient for surgical purposes and render him helpless. He said he wished to use them in the planned hit on Sgt. Sullivan. He demurred.

On another occasion, he, Kyle Moesch and Sgt. Valdez were riding to work and Valdez said “There is going to be a hit on Ryan Sullivan and I'm going to carry it out.” Cpl. Jacobs said he didn't believe him.

Another time, the three of them went to a gun store in Killeen named Quantico Tactical to shop for a “stun gun” Mr. Valdez could use to incapacitate Sgt. Sullivan.

Why did Mr. Valdez say the hit was being planned? Cpl. Jacobs told jurors that Mr. Valdez claimed “He (Sgt. Sullivan) was pissing off a lot of people - lawyers at the Pentagon - stepping on their toes.”

It was a chilling note because he and Sgt. Sullivan operated as snipers gunning through stealth for insurgents who were planting improvised explosive devices in their area of operations. When he finally approached police, it was at the urging of fellow soldiers who liked and admired Sgt. Sullivan.

He made an anonymous phone call on Veterans' Day a month later to the Killeen Police Department, and they sought the help of members of the sergeant's unit to identify his voice.

After the story came out, he sent his wife to live with her parents in Luling, Texas, and he moved in with the Company's First Sergeant for his own protection.

The story slowly pulled out of the Jacobs couple was fraught with what defense counsel dubbed hearsay testimony and a violation of the 6th Amendment guarantee to the right to confront one's accusers.

During their testimony, both Mr. Harris and David Fernandez, counsel for Ms. Briggs, rose to their feet to voice their objections and both were steadily overruled on both grounds. At one point during Cpl. Jacobs' testimony, first Mr. Harris, then Mr. Fernandez made motions for an immediate declaration of a mistrial over the issue and a severance of their client's cases.

“We're dealing with hearsay within hearsay, here,” he told the judge. Motions on behalf of both defendants were promptly denied by Judge Martha Trudo.

Said Mr. Fernandez, “You've got to object. I know the jurors look over at me like I'm doing something wrong, but, hey, it's their rights I'm talking about, too. If the lawyer doesn't object, he just dumped his client.”

Asked if he thought the issue might make law through legal opinions resulting from appeals to higher courts, Mr. Harris said, “It will definitely get written.”

Mr. Fernandez disagreed. “They won't pay it any attention. Too hot. But we're definitely getting it (the objections) on the record.”

Earlier in the day, the judge denied a motion by Mr. Fernandez' co-counsel Jack Holmes to suppress most of the voluminous amounts of testimony elicited from witnesses who gave very skimpy statements to investigators.

“They were all about that long,” he said, indicating with thumb and forefinger...All that stuff about not crying at the funeral, when she (Ms. Briggs) learned of his death? That's just not there.”

His motion was overruled. “I wasn't happy,” he said with a shrug. “She has to be re-elected.”

Is the judge up for re-election in 2012? “It doesn't matter when. These people, you know how they are,” Mr. Holmes said. He shrugged again. Smiled.

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