U.S. soldier pleads not guilty to murdering Afghan

Nashville, Tenn (ANTARA News/Reuters) - A Connecticut National Guardsman accused of slaying an Afghan civilian last year pleaded not guilty to murder during his court martial at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

The trial of Sgt. Derrick Miller, who faces court martial for shooting Atta Mohammed, began Monday at the U.S. Army post on the Tennessee-Kentucky border.

Defense attorney Charles Gittins said in opening statements the sergeant shot Mohammed when the Afghan reached for Miller`s gun during questioning.

The slain man`s son told a Reuters reporter a few months ago that, while he was not there at the time, his understanding is that his father, an electrician, apparently was taken from his home by U.S. and Afghan soldiers, beaten in a school bathroom and then shot in the head.

Prosecutors said Monday that Miller took another soldier`s weapon, straddled the man on the ground and then shot him. Miller is a member of a Connecticut National Guard unit attached to Fort Campbell.

The military prosecution alleges that Miller did "at or near Masamute Bala, Afghanistan, on or about Sept. 26, 2010, with premeditation murdered Atta Mohammed, son of Mohammed Akbar, by means of shooting him in the head with an M9, 9 millimeter Beretta pistol."

The Guardsman must be kept on active duty to stay at the post for the court martial. He has not been allowed to leave the post, according to Rick Rzepka, Fort Campbell media relations officer.

"Our role is he`s been assigned to Fort Campbell," Rzepka said. "Under the uniform code of military justice he`s presumed innocent until guilt is proven beyond a reasonable doubt at a trial by court-marital. Until that happens, if it happens at all, he`s going to be treated like a soldier."

Fort Campbell is the home of the 101st Airborne Division, which is rotating home after being deployed to Afghanistan.