Sunday, February 18, 2018

Suspect in Afghanistan killings was loath to redeploy, his attorney says

SEATTLE — The U.S. soldier accused of slaughtering 16 Afghan villagers last weekend saw a friend's leg blown off the day before the rampage, his lawyer said Thursday.

Seattle attorney John Henry Browne said that his client's family provided him with details, which have not been independently verified.

"His leg was blown off, and my client was standing next to him," he said.

It isn't clear whether the incident might have prompted the attack on civilians in two villages.

The U.S. staff sergeant had been drinking alcohol — a violation of military rules in combat zones — and suffered from the stress related to his fourth combat tour and tensions with his wife about the deployments, a senior U.S. official said Thursday.

"When it all comes out, it will be a combination of stress, alcohol and domestic issues — he just snapped," said the official, who has been briefed on the investigation and who spoke to the New York Times on condition of anonymity because the soldier has not yet been charged.

Browne said the soldier, who had been decorated "many, many times,'' was reluctant to leave on his fourth deployment.

"He was told he wasn't going back, and then he was told he was going," Browne said.

During tours in Iraq, the soldier suffered a concussive head injury in a car accident caused by a roadside bomb, Browne said, and he suffered a battle-related injury that resulted in surgery to remove part of his foot.

He was screened by health officials after the head injury before he redeployed, Browne said. He did not know if his client had been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The 38-year-old staff sergeant from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, near Tacoma, had no prior events in his Army dossier indicating misbehavior.

Browne told reporters that he's met with the staff sergeant's wife and family members. He said he spoke with the suspect Thursday.

"They were totally shocked," Browne said. "He's never said anything antagonistic about Muslims. He's in general very mild-mannered."

Browne said the family was unaware of any drinking problem and described the couple's marriage as "fabulous."

The U.S. official said the military was preparing to move the sergeant to a prison in the United States, most likely at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., as early as today.

The staff sergeant, who grew up in the Midwest, enlisted in 2001 within a week of the terrorist attacks, Browne said.

Browne said he would wait for the government to release the man's name.

"Everybody is worried about the safety of his family, and I am honoring that," Browne said. The man has two children, ages 3 and 4, he said.

The soldier will also have at least one military lawyer. Browne once represented serial killer Ted Bundy. He recently represented Colton Harris-Moore, a youthful thief known as the "Barefoot Bandit" who gained international attention for stealing airplanes, boats and cars.

Information from the New York Times was used in this report.

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