TOPEKA, Kan. – An Army sergeant accused of killing four fellow soldiers and a Navy officer at a mental health clinic on a military base in Iraq two years ago should be tried for murder but should not face the possibility of execution because he suffers from serious mental illness, a military judge recommended.
Sgt. John Russell, who opened fire at the combat stress center at Camp Liberty near Baghdad in May 2009, should be held accountable for his actions and face a court martial on the five counts of premeditated murder he faces, Col. James Pohl wrote in his recommendations issued Friday.
"However, in my opinion, the accused (sic) undisputed mental disease or defect make the death penalty inappropriate in this case," wrote Pohl, who presided over a four-day preliminary hearing in August at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.
An Army general will decide whether to accept Pohl's recommendation or not. A time a place for a court martial to begin had not been set.
Russell, 46, is accused of carrying out the deadliest act of soldier-on-soldier violence in the war in Iraq as he was nearing the end of his third tour in 2009.
Before the shootings, Russell had visited the mental health center because he had expressed that he was considering harming himself. His attorneys used testimony at the August hearing to suggest that Russell was under stress from multiple deployments in Iraq and frustrated with what they have described as inadequate mental health treatment.
Government attorneys sought to show that whatever stress he faced, Russell remained coherent enough just before the shootings in May 2009 to reflect on his actions.
Russell's case has raised questions about the mental problems for soldiers caused by repeated tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and whether the Army's mental health care is adequate. The case led to an investigation and a critical report.
Killed in the shooting were Navy Cmdr. Charles Springle, 52, of Wilmington, N.C., and four Army service members: Pfc. Michael Edward Yates Jr., 19, of Federalsburg, Md.; Dr. Matthew Houseal, of Amarillo, Texas; Sgt. Christian E. Bueno-Galdos, 25, of Paterson, N.J.; and Spc. Jacob D. Barton, 20, of Lenox, Mo.