Court Martial of Lt. Ehren Watada Ends with A Surprise Conclusion

Published: Feb. 8, 2007 at 12:08 AM HST|Updated: Feb. 8, 2007 at 4:41 AM HST
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Eric Seitz
Eric Seitz
U.S. Army Lt. Ehren Watada
U.S. Army Lt. Ehren Watada

FORT LEWIS (KHNL) - The court martial of Army Lieutenant Ehren Watada came to a sudden and suprising conclusion Wednesday afternoon.

The judge declared a mistrial.

The judge says there is confusion about what Watada meant when he agreed to some facts of the case.

That means, the Hawaii born officer who refuses to go to Iraq, would have to go to trial again next month.

Lieutenant Ehren Watada walks free.

And his attorney says a stunning turn of events at his court martial today may keep him free.

"In this case, it's my professional opinion Watada can't be tried again," says Eric Seitz, Watada's attorney.

The army's case against watada for refusing to go to iraq and making statements that were allegedly unbecoming an officer derailed when military Judge John Head declared a mistrial.

Head himself brought-up concerns about a pretrial admission made by Watada called a "stipulation of facts."

In the stipulation, Watada admitted he failed to get on a plane with his unit last June---but claims in this case that was not a crime since he says he feels the war is illegal and therefore had no duty to go.

"And that was enough that the judge was concerned about what Lt. Watada agreed to in a stipulation of fact compared to what he was going to instruct the jury about this defense," says Robert Resnick of the U.S. Army.

But the judge knew about the stipulation from beginning even signed off on it. The government says he got worried when Seitz wanted to instruct the jury that Watada's intent should be considered.

"We were asking the judge to instruct the jury that Ehren acted with the intent that was different and therefore on a mistaken idea of what he was entitled to do," Seitz says.

So now---the case starts from the beginning with one big exception---Seitz claims since it was the prosecutor's decision to ask for a mistrial double jeopardy is an issue---and Watada can't be tried again.

"There may be arguments that can be made by the government to get around that and will have a likely heated discussion but the first motion we file when we attempt to bring this case back will be a motion to dismiss with prejudice," says Seitz.

Prosecutors were left with a very difficult choice. The judge asked whether the government wanted to continue its case absent a lot of evidence or go for a mistrial. After a lot of consideration they said yes they would like a mistrial. If the case does go forward it's tentatively scheduled to start again in the middle of March.