In an effort to avoid the death penalty, a U.S. Army sergeant pleaded guilty Monday to the 2009 murders of five of his fellow servicemen while serving in Iraq, Reuters reports.
Sgt. John M. Russell, 46, was a communications specialist on his third deployment to the country. His defence team maintains he has no memory of the killings and suffers from serious mental health issues, including post traumatic stress and suicidal thoughts.
From Fox News:
On May 8, Russell sought help at a combat stress clinic at Camp Stryker, where his unit was located. On May 10 Russell was referred to the Camp Liberty clinic, where he received counseling and prescription medication.
Witnesses said the following day they saw Russell crying and talking about hurting himself. He went back to the Camp Liberty clinic, where a doctor told him he needed to get help or he would hurt himself. Russell tried to surrender to military police to lock him up so he wouldn’t hurt himself or others, witnesses said.
After going to another mental health appointment on May 11, Russell apparently snapped. “He broke,” Wilburn Russell, the soldier’s father, told CNN. “He just couldn’t handle it.”
While being escorted from his appointment, he allegedly took away his guard’s weapon, then returned to the clinic — killing two military doctors and three enlisted personnel, according to USA Today.
Army Col. David Conn, who is presiding over the case, did not immediately accept Russell’s plea. If he does however, the soldier will still go to trial to determine the degree of guilt.
The trial would determine whether he committed the murders on impulse — as his defence team argues, or that he planned them beforehand.
The choice would then be between a verdict of premeditated murder or the lesser offence of intentional murder to which Russell pleaded guilty. His prison term would hinge on that finding, but as part of the plea deal the death penalty would no longer be considered.
Killed in the shooting were Navy Cmdr. Charles Springle, Dr. Matthew Houseal, PFC Michael Edward Yates Jr., Sgt. Christian E. Bueno-Galdos, and Spc. Jacob D. Barton, according to Fox News.
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