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Trial of Marine pilot may go to jury today

Ashby, portrayed in a courtroom sketch, becomes emotional during his testimony   

March 3, 1999
Web posted at: 9:28 a.m. EST (1428 GMT)

In this story:



CAMP LEJEUNE, North Carolina (CNN) -- Closing arguments began on Wednesday in the court-martial of a Marine pilot accused of killing 20 people in an Italian ski lift accident last year.

The military's case against Capt. Richard Ashby could go to the jury of eight Marine officers as early as the afternoon once the judge gives jurors instructions on the law.

Ashby was at the controls of an EA-6B Prowler when it sliced the cable of a ski gondola on February 3, 1998.

"I can't recall in 20 years of investigating accidents any pilot being held criminally responsible for an accident," said Jeff Edwards, an investigator who worked for the defense team. "I believe he's very worried."

Some relatives of the victims have attended every session of the four-week trial. The U.S. government has flown more relatives here from Europe to be on hand for the closing arguments and jury deliberations.

Only one person took the stand on Tuesday as the trial's testimony phase came to an end.

Robert Duarte, a rebuttal witness for the prosecution, is an expert on some instruments in the jet. He questioned evidence by defense attorneys who claimed the plane's speed was slower than what prosecutors contend.

An hour later, the judge, Lt. Col. Robert Nunley, sent the jury home for the day while he and attorneys for the defense and prosecution prepare jury instructions.

Ashby, 31, of Mission Viejo, California, is charged with 20 counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count each of destroying private property, destroying government property, dereliction of duty and improper flight planning.

He faces a maximum sentence of 206 years in prison if convicted of all charges.


Marine pilot Capt. Richard Ashby says he had no way of knowing a ski lift cable was strung across his flight path, because it was not marked on the military maps he was given for a low-level training mission on February 3, 1998.

Prosecutors don't dispute that, but say Ashby was still flying too fast and too low when his EA-6B Prowler dove into a valley in mid-afternoon, striking the Mount Cermis ski lift near Cavalese, Italy.

Nineteen skiers and the gondola operator plunged to their deaths.

The plane hit the cable at 370 feet (112 meters) above the ground, more than 600 feet (182 meters) lower than it was supposed to be flying.

Correspondent Tony Clark contributed to this report.

Jury in ski-lift trial could get case Wednesday
March 2, 1999
Pilot takes stand in ski lift deaths
February 26, 1999
Defense witnesses: Marine pilot a 'natural'
February 19, 1999
Crew member assumed 'eject position' after Marine jet hit gondola cable
February 18, 1999
Altitude guidelines at issue in Marine pilot court-martial
February 17, 1999

Aviano Air Base Home Page
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