Calgary reservist to appeal conviction in fatal Afghanistan training accident

CALGARY – A court martial is to hear an appeal today by a veteran Canadian Forces reservist convicted in an Afghanistan training accident that killed one soldier and seriously injured four others.

Darryl Watts was found guilty in December 2012 of unlawfully causing bodily harm and negligent performance of military duty in the accident four years ago. He was acquitted of manslaughter.

He was demoted two ranks to lieutenant from major and given a severe reprimand.

Watts is appealing both his sentence and his conviction.

“We proceeded with the appeal because I do not believe Darryl should have been convicted of anything under the unique circumstances of the case,” said his lawyer Balfour Der.

“We are looking for an acquittal and, at worst, the convictions being overturned and a new trial being ordered.”

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The prosecution has filed a cross-appeal, but Der said he isn’t concerned.

“The prosecution have cross-appealed the sentence only. There is always a risk the sentence could go up, but I believe, if anything, the sentence would go down.”

Cpl. Josh Baker, 24, died when a C-19 Claymore anti-personnel mine loaded with 700 steel balls peppered a platoon on a practice range in February 2010. Four other soldiers were hurt when they were hit by the blast.

The prosecution argued during his trial that Watts, who was the platoon commander, didn’t enforce safety standards and abdicated his duty as leader when he handed over responsibility for range safety to Warrant Officer Paul Ravensdale.

Watts argued that he had never been trained on the C-19 and as a result was not qualified to be in charge.

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Military prosecutor Maj. Anthony Tamburro said his position on the case remains unchanged.

“The Crown takes the position that commanders remain accountable for the manner in which delegated tasks are carried out by their subordinates,” Tamburro told The Canadian Press.

“This case is important as the decision of the Court Martial Appeal Court will help to define what being in command means in the Canadian Armed Forces.”

The day of the accident the range was divided into four training sections. The first two tests of the anti-personnel mine went off without a hitch. But during the next one, the ball bearings fired backwards, hitting Baker and the others.

Videos show several soldiers, including Watts, standing around and watching the test. They are not inside armoured vehicles or standing behind them for cover, as set out in military safety regulations.

Two other soldiers have also been convicted for their roles that day.

Christopher Lunney pleaded guilty Sept. 13, 2012, to negligent performance of duty for failing to ensure Watts was properly qualified on the C-19. He said he had assumed that to be the case because of Watts’s rank. Lunney was demoted one rank to captain from major and received a severe reprimand.

Ravensdale, who was running the exercise that day, was found guilty last year of breach of duty causing death, breach of duty causing bodily harm, unlawfully causing bodily harm and negligent performance of military duty. He, too, was acquitted of manslaughter.

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The now-retired soldier was given a six-month suspended sentence. He also received a fine and was demoted one rank to sergeant.

Der said his client believes the appeal is the right thing to do.

“Darryl is holding up well but looking forward to having the appeal heard. He is cognizant of the implications to him personally, but also cognizant of the legal significance this case has to the law of negligence for all soldiers,” Der said.