ALBANY -- In 2008, when a military jury acquitted a National Guardsman from Rensselaer County of murdering two superior officers in Iraq, it outraged the families of the slain soldiers.
Now the widows of those soldiers contend they know a prime reason behind the acquittal -- juror misconduct.
Siobhan Esposito and Barbara Allen say they have learned that a juror on the panel used her military rank to bully lower-ranking jurors and halt deliberations before a verdict was reached in the murder trial of Staff Sgt. Alberto Martinez of Schaghticoke.
The 45-year-old Martinez, a Puerto Rico native and Lansingburgh High School graduate, faced lethal injection if convicted of killing Capt. Phillip Esposito, 30, of Suffern, and 1st Lt. Louis Allen, 34, of Milford, Pa., on an Army base in Tikrit, Iraq. Military prosecutors said that on June 7, 2005, Martinez set off a deadly Claymore mine that killed the officers as they played the board game Risk in Esposito's room.
Jurors acquitted Martinez on Dec. 4, 2008, after two days of deliberating. He was released from the Army in 2009. That year, it was revealed Martinez was once willing to plead guilty to the murders -- and the Army rejected his overture because it would have allowed the defendant to serve life in prison with a chance at parole.
The latest development surfaced when Esposito's widow recently addressed her late husband's 1997 West Point graduating class. She told the class she has learned "a senior member of the (Martinez) panel used her rank to prematurely squelch deliberations before their proper conclusion," adding, "Two jurors have privately alleged that as an ostensive time-saving measure, the panel did not vote on the specifications of the charge concerning the murder of 1st Lt. Allen."
The constitutional protection against double jeopardy prevents Martinez from being retried, but that does not matter to the widows.
"I want the Army to investigate these claims," Esposito, 38, the mother of the captain's 9-year-old daughter, Madeline, told the Times Union from her home in Virginia. "I want their investigation to be through."
Allen said she learned of the alleged jury misconduct after reaching out to various jurors.
"Not only does this news emotionally shock me, but legally, it is a disgraceful breach of protocol, " Allen, 40, the mother of the lieutenant's four sons, ages 9 to 13, told the Times Union from her home in Orange County. Allen said she has learned from jurors that the high-ranked juror told lower-ranking jurors to "shut up" if they wanted to continue deliberating.
When reached Monday, a Pentagon-based Army spokesperson, Lt. Col. Laurel Devine, would only say, "We stand behind the jury's decision."
Testimony during Martinez's trial showed Esposito was not pleased with Martinez's performance as a supply sergeant. Military prosecutors said Martinez promised to "burn" and "frag" Esposito. Louis Allen, an Orange County native who knew the captain from the Troy-based 42nd Infantry Division, to which the men belonged in New York, was in Iraq some four days at the time.