FORT CARSON, Colo. – A Fort Carson soldier was so eager to fight "the bad guys" in Afghanistan that he shot and killed a Taliban member who was sleeping in a jail cell, military prosecutors said Tuesday.
The Army wrapped up a hearing to determine whether Pfc. David Lawrence should be court-martialed on the charge of premeditated murder in the Oct. 17 slaying of the prisoner.
The presiding officer will recommend to commanders whether the 20-year-old from Lawrenceburg, Ind., should be tried. It's not clear when that recommendation will come.
Lawrence's civilian lawyer, James Culp, argued Lawrence isn't mentally fit to stand trial. Culp and Lawrence's father, Brett Lawrence, say the soldier is taking medication for schizophrenia and depression.
Culp made a formal objection Tuesday to holding the hearing before an inquiry into Lawrence's mental health is complete, arguing his client is being rushed into the military justice system.
Maj. George Brauchler, one of the prosecutors, said Lawrence's depression stemmed from the fact that he hadn't been transferred to a unit that was in combat.
"Pfc. Lawrence's zeal to kill the bad guys" led him to shoot the Taliban detainee, Brauchler said.
In testimony by speaker phone from Afghanistan, two soldiers who guarded Lawrence after his arrest said he told them that he and his lawyer might "play the crazy card."
Lawrence appeared to repeatedly nod off during the hearing, prompting prosecutors to ask a sergeant to sit next to him to make sure he stayed awake. At one point, he stood up and started to walk away before Culp pulled him back.
Pfc. Dimitri Andre Jenkins, a medic from Lawrence's platoon, testified by phone from Afghanistan that Lawrence had acted strangely before the shooting. Jenkins said Lawrence was sometimes quiet and withdrawn and other times laughing and joking. He said Lawrence was upset about a friend who had died back home.
Jenkins testified that he reported his concerns to superiors about Lawrence, who was serving with the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division in Afghanistan.
Lawrence was sent to an Army combat stress center in Afghanistan for a few days, and when he returned to his unit, he was assigned to guard duty, which included guarding the captured Taliban member in his cell.
The Army says it's not sure of the name of the Taliban member, saying he had a number of aliases.
Jenkins said he became alarmed when Lawrence said "he was going to do something that had to be done."
Jenkins said, "I felt like it was going to be some kind of murder-suicide deal."
Lawrence's guards, Sgt. John Miller and Pvt. Aaron Rederstorf, both testified that Lawrence told them that the bullet that killed the detainee had ricocheted off something before it struck him.
They said that before Lawrence had his first judicial hearing in Afghanistan, he was smiling and laughing, with Miller saying he appeared "almost cocky."
After the hearing, they said Lawrence became more subdued and at one point appeared to be crying. Both guards said they were not at the hearing and didn't know what transpired.
Both guards said Lawrence had asked them about how long a prison term he might get.
"Well, if I get 20 years, I'll get out when I'm 40 and that wouldn't be too bad," Miller quoted Lawrence as saying.
Sgt. Jaroslab Diaz, who had served as Lawrence's platoon leader at one time, testified that two other soldiers told him that Lawrence had reported having homicidal and suicidal thoughts before the shooting. Diaz testified that Lawrence said he shot the Taliban member.
Culp repeatedly asked the soldiers who testified whether they had warned Lawrence that the things he told them could be used against him, and whether things they said to him might have led him to make incriminating statements.
Most said Culp had been read his rights by Army investigators before they spoke with him.
Culp also raised questions about whether Lawrence was given his medications for the first several days after his arrest.
Culp questioned several soldiers about an apparent suicide attempt by Lawrence while Lawrence was hospitalized for an evaluation after his arrest.
Sgt. 1st Class John Murphy, who was guarding Lawrence at the time, testified Lawrence pulled an IV partially out of his arm and then pumped his fist as if to hasten blood flow though the opening. Murphy said Lawrence relented when Murphy told him he would simply pass out and would be revived before he could die.
Murphy testified he didn't believe it was a serious suicide. Culp ridiculed that assessment and suggested Murphy wasn't qualified to know.