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Hearing Held in Shooting Death of 13-Year-Old

March 16, 1993

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) _ A Marine who fatally shot a 13-year-old Somali was acting in self-defense because he feared the boy had a hand grenade, witnesses testified today.

Sgt. Walter Johnson, 25, of Abilene, Texas, did not take the stand at the Article 32 hearing that will determine whether he will face a court-martial for the Feb. 4 incident in which two bystanders also were injured. A decision is expected within days.

Witness after witness painted a picture of a dedicated, six-year Marine known for his diligence.

Johnson, based at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, is assigned to the Joint Visitors Bureau, which is responsible for protecting VIPs who have visited Somali since a U.S.-led military coalition arrived Dec. 9 to safeguard food shipments.

He was riding at the back of a two-vehicle convoy from the coalition headquarters to the airport when a tractor-trailer rig stopped at a bottleneck in the midst of a busy marketplace, forcing the Humvees to halt behind it.

Omer Ahmed Mohamed, 13, ran toward the back of the Humvee and appeared to be trying to climb in. Johnson and witnesses said they saw a box in the boy’s hand.

When the boy refused entreaties to stop, Johnson fired a single shot from his M-16 rifle, hitting the boy in the shoulder and neck. He later died. The box was never found.

Two bystanders suffered minor injuries, but testimony indicated it was not certain whether they were hit by fragments from the bullet or if the box actually may have exploded and injured them.

Marine Col. Robert Agro, an anti-terrorism expert who is in charge of the Joint Visitors Bureau, called Johnson his best non-commissioned officer and said he did only one thing wrong in the incident.

″That individual should never have gotten that close to the vehicle,″ Agro testified. ″He should have been shot earlier.″

Agro said he had briefed his men four days earlier to be on the lookout for grenade attacks after a rash of blasts in the southern port of Kismayu.

He accused the military brass of not having ″enough moral courage″ to dispose of the case without a hearing.

″This isn’t a snatching sunglasses routine,″ Agro scoffed, referring to the first Article 32 hearing in Somalia in which Marine Gunnery Sgt. Harry Conde of San Juan, Puerto Rico, is accused of wounding a 13-year-old youth who had just snatched his prescription sunglasses.

No decision has been announced on the disposition of Conde’s case.

Update hourly