Barbara Allen relives her husband's murder, every day. "I don't want to be out here doing this. This is not fun for me, it's exhausting. It's been fourteen years of it," she shared.
On June 7, 2005 Lt. Louis Allen and Cpt. Phillip Esposito were on an Army base in Iraq winding down after a long day. Allen's husband had just deployed to Iraq and kissed her and their four sons goodbye 10 days earlier. He was playing the board game, Risk, with the Captain. A few minutes after they started, a claymore mine was set off outside their window. Grenades exploded shortly after the mine went off. They were both rushed to the hospital immediately but died of internal injuries the following day.
While military investigators initially thought the enemy was an insurgent who had set off a rocket or mortar, the discovery of the hand placed mine led them to other suspects. Their subsequent investigation found that the enemy – was from within.
Photo courtesy of Barbara Allen
A staff sergeant within their company was soon charged with two counts of premeditated murder during the week both men were buried by their families. The widows of the men allegedly killed by the staff sergeant were flown to Kuwait a few months later for his Article 32 hearing. Nine witnesses testified and a general court martial for murder was recommended based on the evidence presented. In early 2006, after learning of the evidence against him, the staff sergeant accused offered up a guilty plea to avoid the death penalty.
It was rejected by the military.
Two years later on December 4, 2008, the accused staff sergeant was acquitted of both murders, despite a mountain of evidence that he had "fragged" the two officers. Allen wasn't told until months later that he had entered a guilty plea and the accused staff sergeant was discharged from the Army. Honorably.
Many witnesses testified that the accused staff sergeant had pledged to "burn" and "frag" the captain. They also shared that he was seen smiling and laughing after their deaths. A supply sergeant even testified that she gave the accused ammunition, including a claymore mine. Despite all of that – it wasn't enough to convince the jury.
Allen requested that the Senate Committee on Armed Services look into the case. They didn't.
"If our trial had happened when social media was a thing, I think it would have gone completely differently. It fell through a gap and we can't get it back. If we had the court of public opinion on our side, the country on our side, he'd get the Purple Heart," said Allen.
Photo courtesy of Barbara Allen
Allen was devastated that, in her words, the accused got away with murder and her husband was forgotten afterward. Her husband's death was declared non-hostile, meaning the military states that he wasn't killed by the enemy. This meant he wasn't a candidate for the Purple Heart. She described the whole experience as hell on earth.
"Anyone who willfully kills two soldiers in a combat zone has aided and abetted the enemy. Therefore, is the enemy," Allen said. "Even the weapon used had the words 'front to an enemy.' Flabbergasted, Allen asked, "What else do you have to do to be considered an enemy?" Allen didn't understand how Ft. Hood victims could get awarded Purple Hearts, but her husband, who was murdered in a combat zone, isn't eligible.
Allen believes that the Army must decide that they either made a mistake and charged the wrong person and her husband was killed by an insurgent enemy or they let a guilty man go. She reported that "people tended to get fired" when they helped her. Allen said they've gone as far as having a Medal of Honor recipient deliver the casefile to President Trump to plead for her husband to receive the Purple Heart, without success.
When asked how her boys feel about all of this, she began to cry. "This is their father, their dad, who's been missing for their entire lives," she said. "In the eyes of history he doesn't exist. His future was taken already; you can't take his legacy. The message is that any member of the military is expendable. If you die in a way that is embarrassing, we [the military] will erase you. That isn't the military that I believe in or that he believed in."
Allen achieved a master's in criminal justice years after her husband was killed. She reported studying 12 other capital cases like her husband's. She believes that if the FBI's protocol for workplace violence had been followed by the military with the accused, her husband wouldn't have been killed. "They deserved to be protected; nobody was trained. They believed that the uniform was a barrier to reporting," she said.
This ruling is more than just an award to Allen and her family, she shared. "If the military said that if you willfully injure or kill another service member in a combat zone, let's just start there, you are an enemy. Teach them about the warning signs. I can testify to what happens when you don't. It would change things," said Allen.
Today, Allen says she has a glimmer of hope once again. Her murdered husband's case file for a Purple Heart is currently sitting on a desk in the Pentagon, awaiting review and the stroke of a pen.
Which way it goes remains to be seen.