U.S. soldier to hear charges for 2009 Iraq shootings

Mon Nov 19, 2012 3:04am EST
 
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By Laura L.Myers

TACOMA, Washington (Reuters) - A U.S. soldier accused of killing five fellow servicemen at a military combat stress center in Baghdad in 2009 will face an arraignment at a military base in Washington state on Monday, preparing the way for a trial that could result in the death penalty.

Sergeant John Russell, of the 54th Engineer Battalion based in Bamberg, Germany, is accused of going on a shooting spree at Camp Liberty, near the Baghdad airport, in an assault the military said at the time could have been triggered by combat stress.

The soldier faces five charges of premeditated murder, one charge of aggravated assault and one charge of attempted murder in connection with the May 2009 shootings. Six months ago, he was ordered to stand trial in a military court empowered to assign the death penalty if convicted.

Two of the five people killed in the shooting were medical staff officers at the counseling center for troops experiencing combat stress. The others were soldiers.

It is not known how Russell will plead after hearing the charges against him. An Army spokesman said Russell was expected to be in court during the arraignment. Russell's attorney, James Culp, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. No trial date has been set.

The arraignment, scheduled to take place at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Washington, comes at a sensitive time for the Army, which is in the process of deciding how to prosecute Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, the soldier accused of killing Afghan villagers in cold blood earlier this year.

A two-week hearing at Lewis-McChord to establish if there is sufficient evidence to send Bales to a court-martial wrapped up last week, after harrowing testimony from Afghan adults and children wounded in the attack.

Bales' civilian defense lawyers have suggested he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, an argument that has already played a role in Russell's case.   Continued...

 
Sgt. John M. Russell, the Army sergeant accused of killing five fellow soldiers in Iraq, is seen in a military photo provided by his father, Wilburn Russell, 73, outside of his son's home in Sherman, Texas May 12, 2009. REUTERS/Russell Family/Handout