Wounded soldier's wife expected to testify against Bergdahl

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FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) - Emotional testimony is expected Monday when the wife of a seriously wounded soldier takes the stand during the sentencing hearing for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

Prosecutors told a judge that they intend to call Shannon Allen to the stand to discuss a traumatic brain injury suffered by her husband when he was shot during a search mission for Bergdahl after he walked off his post in Afghanistan in 2009.

Bergdahl has pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. He faces up to life in prison. Prosecutors are using wounds to several service members who searched for Bergdahl as evidence to convince the judge that he deserves a stiff punishment. The sentencing hearing started last week.

National Guard Master Sgt. Mark Allen was on a mission with other U.S and Afghan troops to gather information in two villages in July 2009 when they were ambushed by insurgents using small arms, machine guns and rocket propelled grenades.

Allen was attempting to make a radio call when he was shot near the temple. He suffered a traumatic brain injury that left him unable to speak, in need of a wheelchair and dependent on assistance for such everyday tasks as getting out of bed.

Shannon Allen has declined interview requests, but the toll on her was evident the day Bergdahl pleaded guilty, as she sat weeping in the courtroom. She is one of the final prosecution witnesses before the defense presents their own.

While Bergdahl acknowledged at his plea hearing that his actions triggered the search missions that resulted in the wounds, his lawyers argue there's a limit to his responsibility for a lengthy chain of events that includes decisions by the U.S. military commanders who led the searches as well as enemy attacks.

Bergdahl, who suffered five years as captive of Taliban allies after abandoning his remote post in 2009, made no deal with prosecutors to limit his punishment, so the judge has wide leeway to determine his sentence.

The 31-year-old soldier from Hailey, Idaho, has said he was caged by his captors, kept in darkness and beaten. He said he tried to escape more than a dozen times before President Barack Obama brought him home in 2014 in a swap for five Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.



PREVIOUS STORY
Soldiers and an airman described a shattered hand and a head wound Thursday as prosecutors presented evidence that Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's disappearance endangered those who searched for him.

The testimony came during the sentencing phase for Bergdahl, who faces up to life in prison after he pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. Bergdahl was held captive by Taliban allies for five years after abandoning his remote post in 2009.

Several witnesses described a search mission by U.S. and Afghan troops to comb two villages for information related to Bergdahl days after he disappeared.

Among the most vivid testimony came from Jonathan Morita, describing how his hand was shattered by a rocket-propelled grenade. He has since had multiple surgeries and is left without full use of his right hand.

"Right about here is where they sowed on my thumb where it was dangling off," he said, pointing to a picture of sutures displayed on a video monitor.

He said he can't bend his index finger and thumb and had to learn again how to write and brush his teeth with limited mobility in his dominant hand.

He was with a half-dozen U.S. troops that were accompanying a larger group of Afghan soldiers on the July 2009 search mission when they were ambushed by insurgents using small arms, machine guns and explosive projectiles. One rocket-propelled grenade hit Morita's rifle, shattering his hand. A second landed nearby, lodging shrapnel in his left elbow.

"I just thought I was going to definitely die right there in Afghanistan," said Morita, who earned the rank of sergeant before leaving the Army.

After his injury during the firefight, he said he "pulled out a Bible, read a quick verse" and then grabbed a handgun to return fire before a medical helicopter arrived.

Nearby, Master Sgt. Mark Allen suffered a head wound during the ambush. National Guard Staff Sgt. Jason Walters testified that Allen was trying to make a radio call when Walters saw him get hit by a bullet.

"I watched just as a cloud of his blood came out the side of his head," Walters testified.

Walters became emotional when he described tending to his friend's wound.

"I grabbed a pressure bandage, and started. Sorry ma'am," he told a prosecutor before pausing and resuming testimony. "I started treating his wound ... telling him to hang on."

Allen now uses a wheelchair and is unable to speak, requiring assistance for everyday tasks such as getting out of bed. Walters said it was difficult visiting Allen in a hospital after the deployment.

"Seeing him like that is something I don't wish anyone would have to see," he said.

While Bergdahl acknowledged at his plea hearing that his actions triggered the search missions that resulted in the wounds, his lawyers argued Thursday that there's a limit to his responsibility for a lengthy chain of events including others' decisions and enemy fighters.

"Enemy forces were the direct cause of the horrific wounds to Master Sgt. Allen," said Army Maj. Oren Gleich, a defense lawyer.

Allen's wife is expected to testify Monday. Gleich told the judge he believes it's appropriate for her to testify to the wound's effects on Allen himself, but the defense could object if prosecutors steer her toward testimony that goes too far into the impact on his family. The judge, Col. Jeffery R. Nance, said he would have to wait and see what the objections were before weighing in on the defense's stance.

Bergdahl, a 31-year-old soldier from Hailey, Idaho, has said he was caged by his captors, kept in darkness and beaten, and tried to escape more than a dozen times before President Barack Obama brought him home in 2014 in a swap for five Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

(Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


Previous Story

The wounds and hardships soldiers suffered during their fruitless search for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was captured by the Taliban after walking off his post in Afghanistan, are being described in painful detail at his sentencing hearing.

Bergdahl, who suffered five years as an enemy captive after abandoning his remote post in 2009, pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy last week and faces a maximum of life in prison. Prosecutors made no deal, so the judge has wide leeway to determine punishment.

The Army judge, Col. Jeffery R. Nance, said Wednesday that he's still considering a defense motion to dismiss the entire case over the unfair command influence they say is reflected in comments Donald Trump made as a candidate and reaffirmed as president, that Bergdahl should be put before a firing squad or thrown from a plane without a parachute.

More testimony dangerous search missions is expected Thursday after a Navy SEAL described his career-ending leg wound on Wednesday.

Retired Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer James Hatch said his team's helicopters came under fire as they landed near the Pakistan border, following information on Bergdahl's possible whereabouts. He said the mission, led in the days after Bergdahl disappeared was hastily planned, and their only objective was finding the soldier.

A military dog leading them through a field located two enemy fighters that the team had seen at a distance. Hatch said the fighters sprayed AK-47 bullets at them, killing the dog. He was hit in the leg.

"I screamed a lot. It hurt really bad ... I thought I was dead," said Hatch, who entered the courtroom with a limp and a service dog.

Hatch said he believes he would have died if a comrade hadn't quickly applied a tourniquet. Hatch has subsequently had 18 surgeries.

A soldier whose hand was shattered by a rocket-propelled grenade during a separate search for Bergdahl could testify Thursday. Another soldier suffered a traumatic brain injury on that mission.

The 31-year-old soldier from Hailey, Idaho, has said he was caged by his captors, kept in darkness and beaten, and tried to escape more than a dozen times before President Barack Obama brought him home in 2014 in a swap for five Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

Nance said Monday that he would be fair and hasn't been influenced by Trump, but that he does have concerns that the president's comments are affecting public perceptions about the case and its outcome. Nance ruled in February that comments Trump made as a civilian candidate didn't constitute unlawful command influence. The defense says Trump revived his campaign comments the day of Bergdahl's plea hearing, by saying he thinks people are aware of what he said before.

(Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)