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Verdict delayed in British contractor case in Iraq

From Mohammed Tawfeeq, CNN
Daniel Fitzsimons, center, is escorted by Iraqi police in Baghdad after a court appearance in January.
Daniel Fitzsimons, center, is escorted by Iraqi police in Baghdad after a court appearance in January.
  • Daniel Fitzsimons faces charges of murder and attempted murder
  • Proceedings in the case have been postponed for a week
  • The judges are awaiting a report from a health committee about post-traumatic stress
  • Fitzsimons has pleaded not guilty
  • Iraq
  • Trials

Baghdad, Iraq (CNN) -- An Iraqi judge on Sunday adjourned proceedings for a week in the case of a British contractor accused of killing two colleagues in Baghdad.

Daniel Fitzsimons, 30, has pleaded not guilty to two charges of murder in the 2009 shooting deaths of Paul McGuigan, a British national, and Darren Hoare, an Australian. He is also accused of the attempted murder of a guard.

Fitzsimons has admitted to the three-judge panel that he shot the two men, but argued that it was in self-defense. He also complained that the court would not let him talk about his post-traumatic stress disorder.

The court had already issued one delay in the case in order to ask a health committee for a report on PTSD. However, when the court reconvened on Sunday, the court still had not received an answer from the committee, so a second delay was issued.

"Unfortunately, the court has not received an explanation of a medical terminology that we requested in the last trial from the health committee at al-Rashad teaching hospital," the judge said. "The court decided to stress on the heath committee to respond, and for that we decided to adjourn the deliberation until February 28."

Fitzsimons had previously been diagnosed with PTSD in Britain, but his lawyer had argued that the term and disorder were new to Iraq. The contractor is the first Westerner to be tried in Iraq since the Iraq War started in 2003.

Fitzsimons was escorted by police into the Baghdad courtroom Sunday, and asked the judge to repeat his decision to delay proceedings so that his translator could share the news with him.

Fitzsimons left the court immediately without saying a word but a big smile on his face. His father and brother had arrived from the United Kingdom to be with him, thinking that a verdict would be announced Sunday.

The contractor faces the death penalty if convicted. Under Iraqi law, murder is punishable by hanging.

The trial comes after security contractors lost their immunity following the U.S.-Iraq security agreement that went into effect in January 2009. Before that, Iraqis had complained that private security contractors were operating in a state of lawlessness, never held accountable by Iraqi authorities for incidents in which Iraqis were killed.

"I think we have to trust the process although it may be different than the British way of doing things, and we accept this," said Fitzsimons' father, Eric. It was the father's first trip to Baghdad, and he wasn't sure what to expect, he told CNN.

"We are heartened by the fact that the court is taking Daniel's post-traumatic stress seriously and clearly Daniel is an unwell person and for the court to cause an adjournment to consider his state of health is a positive thing," said Fitzsimons' British lawyer, John Tipple.

According to Fitzsimons' testimony, after a night of drinking, he got into a fight with McGuigan that lasted on and off for more than an hour. He then left, but was later attacked by McGuigan and Hoare, and he shot them in self-defense, he told the court. At one point, one of the judges told him that his version didn't match some of the evidence.