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10-01-08, 11:29 AM #1
Witnesses differ on PTSD at Cisse trial
Witnesses differ on PTSD at Cisse trial
Testimony in conflict on war link to child’s death
By David Allen, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Thursday, October 2, 2008
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — During a murder trial here Tuesday, two expert witnesses wrestled with the touchy subject of what events can trigger post-traumatic stress disorder.
A forensic psychiatrist and a clinical psychologist squared off — the latter by telephone from Florida — during testimony at the court-martial of a Marine sergeant accused of murdering his 6-year-old daughter last October.
At issue was whether Sgt. Bassa Cisse, 33, was suffering from PTSD the day he struck and stepped on his daughter, Naffy, in their Kishaba Towers apartment on Camp Foster on Oct. 21.
In a taped interview shown to the court-martial panel Monday, Cisse told criminal investigators he flew into a rage when the girl soiled her clothing. The girl, a child from a former relationship in the Ivory Coast, had just joined Cisse’s family after a lengthy custody battle and Cisse was just back from a seven-month tour in Iraq.
Naffy, who had just turned 6 a week before she was killed, died from multiple head and internal injuries caused by blunt force, a Navy forensic pathologist testified Tuesday. He ruled the death a homicide.
Air Force Col. Lester Huff, a forensic psychiatrist, said Cisse was suffering from PTSD when he beat his daughter.
"After his return from his second deployment to Iraq, he noticed that he was having some nightmares that involved feelings of inadequacy," Huff testified. "There was some avoidance and numbing in the way he dealt with people."
He said Cisse also showed signs of increased irritability, lack of concentration, increased aggression and angry outbursts.
Huff said that although Cisse’s PTSD caused him to "lose it" and beat his daughter, the sergeant was mentally competent to stand trial.
But Navy Cmdr. Gary Hoyt, a clinical psychologist and head of the mental health department at U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa, testified Cisse was not suffering from PTSD.
He said he has dealt with PTSD patients during most of his 13-year career in the Navy and has seen more than 1,000 patients for the disorder.
"PTSD is a response to a traumatic event," Hoyt said by telephone from Florida, where he is preparing to deploy to Afghanistan. "Usually a life-threatening event."
Cisse, he said, had not experienced such a life-threatening event while deployed for seven months in early 2007. Several witnesses said Cisse never heard a shot fired during his last tour in Iraq and his unit did not lose any men to combat.
According to Huff and Hoyt, Cisse said he was troubled by an incident in which he was leading a patrol from Al Asad Air Base and the vehicle he was in almost tipped over a cliff.
He also said he was haunted by the voice of an Iraqi who was outraged that Cisse once refused to have the men in his squad help with his overturned vehicle.
"You’re not a very good Muslim!" the Iraqi shouted as Cisse’s squad drove by, according to court documents.
Hoyt, who examined Cisse with a Navy psychiatrist in January, said almost tipping a vehicle over a cliff did not rise to the level of a traumatic event.
"Some would find the event traumatic and some would not," Huff said. "It’s something that would be memorable to me."
Hoyt suggested that Huff was "stretching the criteria" for coming up with his PTSD diagnosis. "You have to be very careful in not cheapening the diagnosis of PTSD," he said.
Huff said he was more confident of his diagnosis because he spoke to more people involved in the case. The diagnosis of the other doctor was incorrect, he said.
"My evaluation was more thorough."
Hoyt countered that he had read Huff’s report and nothing Huff had added would have changed his diagnosis.
The issue of PTSD is the key to the prosecution’s case against Cisse. The defense claims Cisse flew into an uncontrollable rage because he suffered from PTSD, which is why he pleaded guilty Friday to negligent homicide, a lesser included offense.
The prosecution claims PTSD had nothing to do with his actions. Maj. Gregory Palmer contends that Cisse, a former teacher in the Ivory Coast, was "an unyielding man who sees failures in others as his own failures" and that "corporal punishment is the way he learned to discipline his students."
A friend from the Ivory Coast and Cisse’s wife, Mafina, both testified that it was common for teachers in Africa to discipline students by slapping their faces, delivering knuckle raps to the head and spanking them.
Other witnesses testifying Tuesday described Cisse as a peaceful, religious man who never showed public displays of anger or abuse to any of his children.
Cisse did not testify, but spent most of the nine-hour hearing at the defense table crying, at times audibly sobbing as he listened to the testimony.
10-02-08, 12:21 PM #2
Okinawa Marine found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in daughter's death
Sergeant sentenced to eight years, dishonorable discharge
By David Allen, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Friday, October 3, 2008
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Marine Sgt. Bassa Cisse was sentenced to eight years in prison and a dishonorable discharge Wednesday for beating to death his 6-year-old daughter.
A court-martial panel deliberated for 2½ hours, finding Cisse — charged with murder in the fatal beating — guilty of the lesser offense of involuntary manslaughter.
The panel decided that Cisse, who had pleaded guilty to negligent homicide in the trial’s opening day last Friday, was more than negligent when he disciplined Naffy Cisse — his daughter from a previous relationship — in the family’s tower apartment on Camp Foster for soiling her clothes.
According to court testimony, he struck her several times, knocked her down as she was spreading her clothes to dry while naked on the balcony, and then angrily stomped on her when he walked back inside the apartment.
She died of a fractured skull and internal injuries.
The conviction for involuntary manslaughter means Cisse killed her while performing another illegal act — battery — for which he faced a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
It took the jurors just 80 minutes to return their sentence.
It was not clear how much weight the jury gave the defense’s argument that the beating was an act of rage brought on by Cisse’s suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
An Air Force psychiatrist testified that Cisse suffered from PTSD as a result of his second tour in Iraq, when a patrol vehicle he commanded almost tipped over a cliff. However, the prosecution submitted a medical report by a Navy psychologist that rejected the PTSD diagnosis. Evidence was also submitted to show Cisse never witnessed any hostile fire and that his unit did not lose anyone because of hostile actions during the unit’s tour in early 2007.
Cisse, 33, assigned to Marine Wing Communications Squadron 18, displayed little emotion as the sentence was announced.
Earlier, he broke into tears as he apologized for his actions. Sobbing, he stood facing the panel, a piece of paper shaking in his hands as he spoke.
"I am ashamed," he said. "For no good reason, I lost control. I literally beat my daughter to death. I will never stop thinking about it. It is a nightmare."
His wife and several friends sitting behind him wiped their tears as he continued.
"I was so stupid and irresponsible that I killed my own daughter," he said. "I am sorry. I am deeply sorry."
During the sentencing phase, his wife, Mafima, testified that his two children missed him terribly during the year he has spent in the brig on Camp Hansen, awaiting trial. They got to visit him on weekends, she said, but he was always shackled.
Cisse was free of restraint while awaiting sentencing and could be seen smiling broadly as he held his daughter in his arms while walking his son down the hallway.
Maj. Gregory Palmer, the lead prosecutor had argued for the maximum sentence.
"What’s the value of a 6-year-old girl?" he asked. "It cannot be evaluated in terms of numbers, but it certainly might be worth 10 years."
Neal Puckett, the civilian lead defense attorney, argued 10 years was excessive.
"You reached what we consider the right verdict," he said. "[But] we’re not looking at an evil man. We’re looking at a man who on one day made the most serious mistake he will ever make."
He then asked the panel not to also punish Cisse’s wife and two young children. Mafima Cisse said her husband also sent money back to their native Ivory Coast, to help support an extended family.
"I don’t know what I will do," she said when asked how the family would survive if Cisse was sent back to jail.
"Consider the full and lasting effect the punishment will have on others," Puckett said. "[Cisse] will live the rest of his life in his own personal hell."
During his closing arguments, prosecutor Palmer belittled the defense’s attempt to paint the death of Naffy Cisse as something similar to running over a child because of not being careful when backing out of the driveway.
"His wife and two children depend on him," Puckett said.
"Oh, let’s just all join hands and say ‘Kumbaya,’ " Palmer said in response. "You’ve got to be kidding me."
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