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Army Private Says He Left Unit Because Of Harassment By Officers

February 24, 1988

FORT DIX, N.J. (AP) _ An Army private accused of deserting to the Soviet Union told the military judge in his court-martial Wednesday he fled his West German base because he was harassed by his superiors and was told to stop seeing his German girlfriend.

″I was told by my first sergeant I shouldn’t see my wife anymore - at the time, she wasn’t my wife - she was pregnant,″ Pvt. Wade E. Roberts testified on the first day of the court-martial.

The 22-year-old serviceman from Riverside, Calif., pleaded guilty Wednesday to being absent without leave, but military lawyers are pressing the more serious charge of desertion.

If convicted of desertion, Roberts faces a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a dishonorable discharge.

Roberts fled his base at Giessen, West Germany, on Feb. 28 and traveled with his girlfriend, Petra Neumann, to the Soviet Union, where they were married.

He returned to West Germany on Nov. 4, and was arrested the following day.

Roberts told the presiding judge, Col. Earl Pauley, that he had been ″ put on restriction, and I was experiencing some problems with my sergeants.″

Roberts said he was told by his superiors to stay away from German women.

″I left, and I went to Petra’s apartment,″ he added. ″I stayed away for over 30 days, and eventually I ended up in the Soviet Union.″

His civilian attorney, Ronald Kuby, said Roberts’ actions didn’t meet the legal definition of desertion, which is unauthorized absence with no intent to return to the military.

″Wade Roberts panicked,″ said Kuby. ″He didn’t want to be separated from his wife.″

But Army Capt. Daniel Shaver, the military’s attorney, called more than a half-dozen witnesses to the stand to establish that Roberts didn’t like his unit, had disciplinary problems and wanted to leave.

One witness, Alfred Santos, a security officer at the U.S. Embassy in Bonn, said he spoke by telephone to Roberts the day of his arrest. Santos said Roberts pleaded to be allowed to turn himself in to embassy officials.

″He said ... words to the effect he didn’t trust the military ... and that he didn’t want to go back,″ said Santos.

Kuby argued Roberts maintained his U.S. citizenship in Russia and kept his military identification card during his eight-month odyssey.

Roberts’ attorneys contend their client is the target of ″selective and vindictive prosecution,″ and that he is only being tried because he fled to a communist country. They asked that the charge be dismissed.

Kuby added that of the 1,048 AWOL or desertion cases processed last year at Fort Dix, fewer than 10 resulted in prosecutions.

Shaver contended the Army has prosecuted cases similar to that of Roberts. He said Roberts’ choice of the Soviet Union is a legitimate factor in determining whether to proceed with such charges.

Pauley agreed, and said the defense did not prove their client was singled out for a court-martial.

The case is being heard by a judge because Roberts exercised his option not to be tried by a jury of five officers and unlisted personnel.

Ms. Neumann attended the proceeding, but refused to answer most questions from reporters. The couple has a 2-month-old son.

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