Arkansas Iraq War vet gets life in prison for killing girlfriend

Iraq War veteran who sought acquittal on a capital murder charge in the death of his girlfriend has been convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

A Pulaski County jury of six men and six women deliberated about 90 minutes Thursday and eight hours on Friday before finding Steven Russell Jr. guilty.

Russell called police in November 2009 and told them had had shot Joy Owen, 24, a North Little Rock High School teacher, to death after an argument at the apartment the two shared, records show. He told officers where to find the gun he used, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette  reported in a story for Saturday's editions.

At the time of Owens' death, Russell was on probation for a 2008 domestic battery conviction. Prosecutors alluded to the conviction in Russell's trial, but gave no details. The assault was included in Russell's mental health records and forensic reports submitted to the jury.

Russell's defense team admitted he killed Owens, but blamed the shooting on post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by his war service in the Middle East. Owen served in the Iraq War in 2003.

Prosecutors agreed that Russell suffered from the condition, but disputed the claim that Russell was insane when he killed Owens. They pointed to Russell's actions before and after the gunfire, and said the descriptions he gave doctors about the circumstances showed he had deliberately killed her.

The legal and medical process to assess Russell's mental health took almost two years.

Two psychologists, Ron Faupel and James Moneypenny, diagnosed Russell as insane when he killed Owens. Dr. Brad Diner, a psychiatrist, agreed that Russell was mentally ill, but said his claim of shooting Owens during a flashback was dubious because the actions of post-traumatic stress sufferers are usually re-enactments of their reaction to the trauma that induced the condition.

Cocking the gun and firing it four times at Owens did not reflect the kind of trauma -- seeing friends, fellow soldiers and children killed and maimed -- that Russell reported, Diner said.

"You would have to believe she did something that reminded him of his Iraqi war experience ... and I can't make that jump," Diner said. "To me, it was too convenient, and there was too much purposeful action."

Russell's attorney, Rickey Hicks, didn't immediately return a phone message that The Associated Press left at his office Saturday for comment.
Russell has 30 days to appeal the verdict.