- A sniper killed 1st Lt. Dustin Vincent in Kirkuk in early November
- The case against a suspect could take seven months
- U.S. troops are scheduled to be out before then
- A military lawyer praises Iraqis for bringing cases to court
Three U.S. soldiers detailed the shooting death of their platoon leader for an Iraqi judge Sunday in an effort to preserve a case that will be tried months after U.S. troops have left the country.
It is one of a number of cases in recent months where a U.S. military attorney and an Iraqi prosecutor have worked together to bring charges against those accused of targeting American troops, though it is one of the first murder cases to be brought before a judge just weeks ahead of the U.S. pullout from Iraq.
"Today, we came to court to preserve the testimony of soldiers in a pending criminal case that will be tried in an Iraqi court, and we bring the testimony today because the American forces are going to be gone soon," Army Maj. Franklin D. Rosenblatt, an attorney working on the case, told CNN.
The U.S. military took the step of having American soldiers provide testimony because "we are no longer going to be able to show up here in the court," Rosenblatt said.
The November 3 shooting of 1st Lt. Dustin D. Vincent -- one of the last U.S. casualties in the more-than-eight-year Iraq war -- was chronicled by insurgents who captured the sniper shooting on video and posted it online.
Inside a crowded courthouse, one of the soldiers who was with the 25-year-old Vincent the day he was killed told the investigative judge that a "few days later a video was posted that claimed the killing of the 1st lieutenant, and it shows the same location we were that day."
The video, which was played for the judge, was set to music and showed what appeared to be a soldier on the top of an armored vehicle, at a distance from the camera. On his back, which was to the camera, was a superimposed sniper's crosshair cursor. Then there is the sound of a gunshot, and the soldier drops from view.
His comrades testified that Vincent, of Mesquite, Texas, was killed when his convoy stopped in Kirkuk's volatile al-Wasiti district, a mixed Sunni-Turkomen neighborhood in the northern Iraqi city. The convoy stopped to fix an electrical cable on the top of one of Vincent's armored vehicles -- "Then we heard a shot," one of the soldiers told the judge.
Two of the soldiers testified they got out of their armored vehicle to aid Vincent, who was shot in the upper right portion of his chest.
"He was wearing a vest, but it hit the upper side of the vest," the same soldier said. Later, the soldiers said, they were told Iraqi police apprehended a suspect.
The American soldiers who testified are still carrying out missions in Iraq and are not being identified at the request of the U.S. military.
Rosenblatt asked to submit the case to the court on behalf of the U.S. Army. The Iraqi prosecutor, who also asked not to be identified as a security precaution, said the case against the suspected sniper could take up to seven months before it is decided by the court.
In addition to the testimony of the soldiers and the video, the prosecutor told CNN other evidence was presented to the judge.
"We told the judge that we have witnesses and a secret witness, and we will try to bring him to court as soon as possible," the prosecutor said. It was not clear who the additional witnesses were, and the prosecutor did not identify them out of a concern for their safety.
The U.S. military has successfully pressed for the prosecution of four people who have been convicted in recent months of targeting U.S. personnel at Contingency Operating Site, the American base on the outskirts of Kirkuk, with rockets or roadside bombs.
"I think in Kirkuk, it's a big step that at least they allow us to come here to the courthouse, and here we have seen some real results lately," Rosenblatt said. "They have been willing to take on the cases of the terrorists who have attacked the U.S. troops, and I think that is a real good sign."
Vincent is the second American soldier to be killed in Kirkuk in a little more than a month. A rocket attack in late September killed Spc. Adrian Mills, 23, of Newnan, Georgia, and wounded at least four others.
While violence has fallen off across much of Iraq, bombings and shootings are a near-daily occurrence in the disputed city, which is home to nearly a third of the country's oil reserves.
Kirkuk is populated by ethnic Kurds, Arabs and Turkomen. Tensions among the groups run high in the city, to which the Iraqi government in Baghdad and the semi-autonomous Kurdish region have both laid claim.