By MARTA FALCONI
The Associated Press
Wednesday, February 7, 2007; 11:35 AM
ROME -- A judge Wednesday ordered a U.S. soldier to stand trial in absentia for the fatal shooting of an Italian intelligence agent at a checkpoint in Baghdad, the prosecutor said.
Spc. Mario Lozano is indicted for murder and attempted murder in the death of Nicola Calipari, who was shot on March 4, 2005, on his way to the Baghdad airport shortly after securing the release of an Italian journalist who had been kidnapped in the Iraqi capital, prosecutor Pietro Saviotti said.
Another agent, who was driving the car, and the journalist, Giuliana Sgrena, were wounded.
"This looks to me like the first step on a long road toward truth and justice, and I hope justice will come in the end," said a visibly emotional Rosa Calipari, the agent's widow.
Lozano was not at the hearing and his whereabouts are not known. Judge Sante Spinaci set his trial date for April 17.
According to prosecutors, the judge said in his ruling that Lozano can be tried for "political murder," because Calipari was a civil servant and his slaying damaged Italy's interests.
Italian law does not allow foreigners charged with killing Italians abroad to be tried in absentia unless the murder has political connotations, prosecutors have said in the past.
Sgrena's lawyer, Alessandro Gamberini, said the judge agreed to attach a civil lawsuit against the Defense Department.
Prosecutors so far have not sought the soldier's arrest. Lozano, a member of the New York-based 69th Infantry Regiment, has said through friends in the military that he had no idea the car was carrying the Italians.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said there are no plans to make Lozano available for the trial.
"We conducted a very thorough investigation ... involved the Italians ... made available all the information," Whitman said. "As far as the Defense Department is concerned, we and the Ministry of Defense in Italy consider this a closed matter."
The defense had tried to have the case dismissed, arguing that Lozano had merely been following orders.
"I wasn't expecting this, because I think there were grounds for a dismissal because of the fact that he was following orders," said Lozano's court-appointed lawyer, Fabrizio Cardinali.
Sgrena said she was satisfied with the judge's decision. "It was what we have asked for," she said.
If convicted, Lozano could be sentenced to life in prison, said Francesca Coppi, who is Rosa Calipari's lawyer.
The case has strained U.S.-Italian relations. The United States and Italy drew different conclusions in reports on the incident. U.S. authorities have said the vehicle was traveling fast, alarming soldiers, who feared an insurgent attack. Italian officials claimed the car was traveling at normal speed and accused the U.S. military of failing to signal there was a checkpoint.
Calipari's death angered Italians, already largely opposed to the war in Iraq, and the agent was mourned as a national hero.