New details at hearing for soldier accused of murder
Published Tuesday, January 6, 2009 9:27PM EST
A Canadian army captain accused of shooting and killing a severely-wounded insurgent after a deadly battle in Afghanistan could be released from a military prison on Wednesday.
Although both prosecution and defence lawyers agreed that Capt. Robert Semrau isn't considered a flight risk and should not be held in custody, judge Lt-Col. Louis-Vincent d'Auteuil said Tuesday he would reserve his judgment for a day.
The court also heard that Semrau has an exemplary military service record and that he has a wife and an infant child.
But court documents filed by Crown prosecutor Maj. Marylene Trudel Tuesday allege that Semrau shot a wounded insurgent after an October battle.
As a member of the Operational Mentor and Liaison Team, Semrau was responsible for guiding and mentoring the Afghan National Army.
He was in Helmand province when the incident occurred, as one of several military mentors there while a violent three-day defence of Lashkar Gah was carried out.
During the battle, a group of Afghan and Canadian soldiers were ambushed by Taliban in Helmand province.
Before the alleged shooting, the group had called in air support, which included a U.S. Apache helicopter, court heard.
After the chopper completed the air strike, the Canadian and Afghan soldiers found one dead insurgent and another who appeared to be severely-wounded.
The document said the wounded insurgent had a rifle, which was taken from him, and that it was determined his injuries were untreatable, the document said.
Witnesses quoted in the court document say that Semrau was seen near the injured insurgent before two shots were fired.
Prosecutor Trudel accused Semrau of firing both shots.
The Afghan and foreign troops eventually won the battle, retaking the Nad Ali district centre after three days of fighting.
But the insurgent's body was left behind and has never been found, and Trudel noted that the military prosecutors had not yet determined if there was a reasonable prospect for a conviction.
She added that the charges against the soldier could change as the investigation continues.
"We're still a step behind that process," she said in court.
Semrau, who was brought back to Canada for a court martial after charges were laid, is alleged to have shot the unarmed man "with intent to kill."
Tuesday's hearing was held to determine whether or not Semrau should be held in custody ahead of his trial or if he should be released.
Maj. Steve Turner, who is Semrau's lawyer, didn't reveal what his defence strategy would entail.
Circumstances of the charges unusual
At a hastily-called news conference on Dec. 31, Canadian military officials said the Canadian Forces' National Investigation Service was probing whether proper procedures were followed surrounding the death.
However, they said Col. Jamie Cade, the acting commander of Task Force Kandahar, was only notified of the allegations on Dec. 27, at which point he quickly notified the NIS and an investigation was launched.
Semrau was charged on New Year's Eve.
The circumstances of the charges are unusual because the alleged offence occurred during battle, and because of the delay between when the incident occurred and when the charges were laid -- roughly two-and-a-half months.
During proceedings Tuesday, the court was told that Semrau earned a BA in psychology from the University of Saskatchewan.
Before joining the Canadian military, he served with the British military for three years and was granted an "exemplary discharge."
Semrau arrived at the courthouse dressed in a military officer's uniform but politely declined to comment about the case.
With files from The Canadian Press