Bergdahl's Fate Will Solely Be in Judge's Hands

Chooses to have trial heard by judge alone
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 21, 2017 11:40 AM CDT
Bergdahl's Case Won't Go to Military Jury
Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, center, arrives with his legal team for a preliminary motions hearing on Aug. 8, 2017, at the courtroom facility on Fort Bragg, NC.   (Andrew Craft/The Fayetteville Observer via AP)

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has decided to be tried by a judge—not a military jury—on charges that he endangered comrades by walking off his post in Afghanistan. Bergdahl's lawyers told the court in a brief filing last week that their client chose trial by judge alone, rather than a panel of officers. He faces charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy at his trial scheduled for late October at Fort Bragg. The latter carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. Defense attorneys declined to comment on the decision. But they previously questioned whether Bergdahl could get a fair trial by jury because of negative comments President Trump made on the campaign trail, reports the AP.

Earlier this year the judge, Army Col. Jeffery R. Nance, rejected a defense request to dismiss the case over Trump's criticism of Bergdahl. Potential jurors had already received a questionnaire including questions about their commander in chief, but defense attorneys weren't allowed to ask jurors if they voted for Trump. Rachel VanLandingham, a former Air Force lawyer not involved in the case, says defense attorneys likely felt limited in how they could probe juror opinions. "They lost their ability to ask all the questions they wanted to ask, one of those being: 'Did you vote for President Trump?'" said VanLandingham. Beyond concerns about jurors, she says Nance has so far demonstrated his objectivity. "His pretrial rulings have shown that he's fair." (More Bowe Bergdahl stories.)

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