Saturday, April 22, 2006

Mikel gets 25 years for post shooting

In tearful testimony during the final sentencing phase of his court-martial trial Thursday, Pvt. Nicholas Mikel said he regretted shooting at fellow troops on Oct. 13.

"I'd like to begin by saying how sorry I am for my actions," Mikel said, having to pause a couple of times to regroup as he read a statement.

I realize I brought great stress and hardship on everyone in my unit. I realize I made a terrible mistake. It's difficult to know that it was my own conduct that caused this."

Prosecutors in the Fort Campbell trial sought life without parole. But because Mikel admitted guilt to attempted premeditated murder, thus avoiding a prolonged trial, the court gave Mikel 25 years in prison and a dishonorable discharge.

Mikel also was convicted of 22 counts of aggravated assault for putting other soldiers' lives in danger, assault with battery — lowered from an attempted rape charge — theft of military property for stealing a unit laptop computer, and failure to obey a lawful general regulation — not registering with post officials the gun used in the shooting.

On the assault with battery charge, a female soldier testified Mikel tried to rape her the night before the shooting.

After presiding judge Lt. Col. Richard Anderson heard final arguments, he concluded Mikel should serve 50 years. But because Mikel made a deal in admitting guilt, that punishment was cut by half, with the possibility of parole.

The deal stipulated Mikel be demoted to E-1 and that he forfeit all pay and benefits until his enlistment contract expires in July 2007.

Since the shooting, Mikel has served 189 days, and that will be credited to his prison term.

Until a permanent correctional facility is designated, he will stay in the Christian County, Ky., jail.

The chain of events apparently began with Mikel being convicted of two burglaries while on leave in Florida last year. While the rest of the 101st Airborne Division deployed to Iraq, Mikel spent two months in a Florida jail. He was placed on four years' probation and was going to be discharged from the Army.

When Mikel returned to post, Staff Sgt. Larry Merchant documented this on a job review, and Mikel was out for revenge.

According to court testimony and records, Mikel took a .357-caliber revolver from his parents' home while he was still in Florida.

At Fort Campbell on the early morning of Oct. 13, wearing black gear he bought from a military supply store, Mikel lay in wait for Merchant and the other soldiers.

He fired three shots into the back side of the physical training formation. No one in the formation was hit, and four soldiers who chased Mikel were also uninjured when Mikel fired at them.

One of five pregnant soldiers in the formation, Emily Trageser, testified Thursday she was "afraid for my baby," during the shooting.

Merchant said the shooting caused him extreme anxiety, which came out during a company Halloween party two weeks later.

"A balloon popped, and it startled me to the point of it being a flashback," Merchant testified.

After the trial, the staff sergeant said the sentencing was fair, but that didn't end his uneasiness.

"I didn't know (Mikel). I'd seen him in passing," Merchant said, not understanding why the private would be so upset that he'd want to kill him for doing his job.

"He'd gotten into trouble, and he'd been left back here. The (deployed) command said they wanted him (discharged) out of the Army. I never saw it coming."

The leaf Chronicle


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