U.S. soldier enters no plea in 2009 Iraq shootings

Tue Nov 20, 2012 1:33am 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 entered no plea at an arraignment on Monday at a military base in Washington state.

Sergeant John Russell, 48, 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.

Russell, of the 54th Engineer Battalion based in Bamberg, Germany, 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 that has the power to sentence him to death, if he is 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.

Russell, tall and broad-shouldered with a military crew-cut and glasses, was mostly silent during the 15-minute hearing, answering only "Yes, sir" and "No, sir" to the judge's questions.

Russell's attorney, James Culp, waived hearing of the charges on Russell's behalf and entered no plea for him, which is common practice in military justice procedure. No date has been set for the court-martial, but both military prosecutors and defense attorneys indicated on Monday that it could begin in March.

SENSITIVE TIME

The arraignment, 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, a soldier accused of killing Afghan villagers in cold blood earlier this year.   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