FORT RILEY, Kan. – An Army sergeant convicted of shooting two fellow soldiers to death last year at his farmhouse will serve life in prison with no chance of parole, a military jury decided Saturday.
Sgt. Aaron Stanley (search), a 23-year-old veteran of the Iraq war, was sentenced a day after his conviction by the same eight jurors on two counts of premeditated murder. They deliberated about six hours over his sentence — and only three hours over his guilt.
"These were extraordinarily violent and senseless murders," Maj. John Hamner, the lead prosecutor, told the panel.
Stanley was convicted of killing Staff Sgt. Matthew Werner, 30, of Oxnard, Calif., and Spc. Christopher D. Hymer, 23, of Nevada, Mo., in September in Clay Center (search), about 30 miles west of Fort Riley.
Stanley, of Bismarck, N.D., argued he acted in self-defense and to protect another soldier who was there, but prosecutors said he shot the two men to conceal an illegal drug trafficking operation, believing the victims to be informants for Fort Riley (search) police. Stanley and the other soldier, Sgt. Eric Colvin (search), had acknowledged manufacturing methamphetamine and growing marijuana at the farmhouse.
Stanley wiped a few tears from his eyes but otherwise was composed when the jury announced its decision.
"It's OK," he told a half-dozen family members seated behind him.
He patted them on their backs, adding, "It's not the end of the world. Relax."
But his family members gasped when the sentence was announced. All were either shaking or crying afterward.
Hymer's father, David, said "All right!" when he heard the sentence. "I feel justice is here," he said later. "It makes me put a close to this."
Supporters praised Stanley's performance as a soldier and his character as a young boy growing up. But on Saturday, Hamner told the panel it shouldn't be swayed by those pleas.
"On 13 September, he was the antithesis of everything good that was said about him yesterday," he said.
Stanley read an apology in court Friday.
"I'm so sorry," he said to the victims' families. "I hope that you will find it in your hearts to forgive me and I hope that this brings peace."
All four soldiers were part of the 1st Battalion of the 41st Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 1st Armored Division based at Fort Riley. Both Stanley and Colvin were with Bravo Company and had served in Iraq.