U.S. soldier pleads not guilty to murdering Afghan

By Tim Ghianni

NASHVILLE, Tenn (Reuters) - A Connecticut National Guardsman who shot dead an Afghan civilian last year pleaded not guilty to murder during his court martial at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

The trial began Monday at the Army post on the Tennessee-Kentucky border in the case of Sgt. Derrick Miller, who faces court marital for shooting Atta Mohammed last year.

The sergeant shot Mohammed when the Afghan reached for Miller's gun during questioning, defense attorney Charles Gittins said in opening statements.

The military prosecution alleges that Miller did "at or near Masamute Bala, Afghanistan, on or about September 26, 2010, with premeditation murder Atta Mohammed, son of Mohammed Akbar, by means of shooting him in the head with an M9, 9 millimeter Beretta pistol."

The slain man's son told a Reuters reporter a few months ago that, while he was not there at the time, his understanding is that his father, an electrician, apparently was taken from his home by U.S. and Afghan soldiers, beaten in a school bathroom and then shot in the head.

Prosecutors said Monday that Miller took another soldier's weapon, straddled the man on the ground and then shot him. Miller is a member of a Connecticut National Guard unit attached to Fort Campbell.

The Guardsman must be kept on active duty in order to stay at the post for the court martial. He has not been allowed to leave the post, according to Rick Rzepka, Fort Campbell media relations officer.

"Our role is he's been assigned to Fort Campbell," Rzepka said. "Under the uniform code of military justice he's presumed innocent until guilt is proven beyond a reasonable doubt at a trial by court-marital. Until that happens, if it happens at all, he's going to be treated like a soldier."

Fort Campbell is the home of the 101st Airborne Division, which is rotating home after being deployed to Afghanistan.

(Editing by Greg McCune)

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