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Fate of Calgary reservist in hands of judge

CALGARY — It’s now up to a military judge to decide if a reservist convicted in a deadly training accident in Afghanistan is a man with no remorse who deserves to be punished or an officer who shoulders little blame for what happened.

Those were the two pictures painted by lawyers Tuesday as the sentencing hearing for Maj. Darryl Watts concluded.

Watts was found guilty last month of unlawfully causing bodily harm and negligent performance of military duty in the training accident almost three years ago.

Cpl. Josh Baker, 24, died when a C19 Claymore anti-personnel mine loaded with 700 steel balls peppered a platoon on a practice range near Kandahar city in February 2010.

Four other soldiers hit by the blast were seriously injured.

“There is no punishment less than imprisonment that would be appropriate in this case. He must be held accountable,” said military prosecutor Maj. Dylan Kerr.

“There’s little evidence of remorse from Maj. Watts or that he has accepted responsibility for his actions.”

Kerr, saying a message must be sent about Watts’s part in the accident, called for 18 months in jail as well as either outright dismissal from the Canadian Forces or a demotion of two ranks to lieutenant.

He said there were a number of aggravating factors in the case, including the fact Watts didn’t plead guilty. He also suggested that although Watts wasn’t trained on the C19 Claymore, he was at least aware of the safety standards required.

“It wasn’t for Maj. Watts to turn a blind eye to those safety parameters,” said Kerr.

“He had plenty of time to correct the situation prior to the catastrophic consequences.”

Defence lawyer Balfour Der said Watts deserves nothing more than a reprimand because his blameworthiness is on the low end of the scale.

Der also disputed criticisms that Watts did not show remorse and pointed out that he has kept in contact with the wounded soldiers.

“Remorse means more than saying, ’I did it. I’m sorry,”’ said Der, who noted there were several soldiers above and below Watts in rank who were familiar with the Claymore and didn’t see anything wrong.

“Now this all falls on one man who is the least qualified of the bunch,” Der said. “We’re placing it all on his shoulders.”

Der also noted that there was no mention of why the accident occurred and what might have happened with the anti-personnel mine.

“This thing malfunctioned. It did what it wasn’t supposed to do. It’s a freak accident. It shot its load backward.”

Cmdr. Peter Lamont, the military judge in the case, did express concern during the sentencing.

“One of the things I find troubling is this is a case of shared responsibility,” he said. “The actions or inactions of the offender are seen in the context of the actions or inactions of others.”

Watts’s commanding officer, Maj. Christopher Lunney, pleaded guilty in September to negligent performance of duty, was demoted to captain and given a severe reprimand.

A court martial is to be held later this year for Warrant Officer Paul Ravensdale, an expert on the weapon, who was second in command that day.

Lamont said he was going to need time before coming to a sentence and postponed his decision until Feb. 20.

“I’m mindful of the continuing stresses of uncertainty, but I find I’m left in a position where I have to have time to decide.”

The prosecution argued during the trial that Watts, who was the platoon commander, didn’t enforce safety standards and abdicated his duty as leader when he handed over responsibility to Ravensdale.

 
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