JBLM soldier 'in shock, kind of like a deer in headlights,' says lawyer


by KING 5 News


Posted on March 15, 2012 at 12:49 PM

Updated Friday, Mar 16 at 8:38 AM

SEATTLE -- The U.S. soldier accused of carrying out a mass killing of Afghan civilians earlier this week is currently being returned to the United States, according to officials in Kuwait where the Army sergeant was first taken after leaving Afghanistan.

A U.S. official confirmed the soldier is en route to a prison in Leavenworth, Kansas, and is expected to be back on American soil as early as Friday.

Seattle attorney John Henry Browne announced Thursday he's been hired by the soldier's family to represent him.  The suspect was based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington.

"He is in shock, kind of like a deer in headlights at the moment," Browne said Friday morning. "I told him not to talk about the allegations at all, so I cannot tell you how he is responding because I told him not to talk about it."

The soldier is suspected of going on a shooting rampage in villages near his base in southern Afghanistan early Sunday, killing nine children and seven other civilians and then burning some of their bodies. The shooting, which followed a controversial Quran-burning incident involving U.S. soldiers,  outraged Afghan officials and raised concerns that the U.S.-led effort in Afghanistan could falter.

The suspect was flown out of Afghanistan on Wednesday evening to what officials describe as a pretrial confinement facility in Kuwait. Officials, commenting anonymously, described him as a father of two who has been in the military for 11 years. He served three tours in Iraq and began his first deployment to Afghanistan in December.

The soldier asked to be represented by Browne when he was taken into custody, the lawyer said.

Browne said he's spoken with the soldier, but did not discuss the substance of the allegations. He said the soldier had no prior events in his service indicating misbehavior.

"I don’t know if there’s alcohol involved maybe, I don’t know," said Browne. "I think we need to find out what the real facts are before we start speculating."

Browne said according to his client's family, one day before the rampage the soldier was standing next to another U.S. soldier when that soldier's leg was blown off.

"We have been informed that at this small base that he was at, somebody was gravely injured the day before the alleged incident -- gravely injured, and that affected all of the soldiers," he said.

Browne said his client had been reluctant to leave on his fourth deployment and surprised to be deployed to Afghanistan.

He offered no other details of the incident, and it isn't clear whether it prompted the horrific middle-of-the-night attack. The soldier had been injured twice during his three previous deployments to Iraq, and he was loath to go to Afghanistan to begin with, Browne said.

Browne declined to release his client's name, citing concerns for the soldier's immediate family members, who are under protection at JBLM. But Browne said the soldier has two young children, ages 3 and 4.

The 38-year-old soldier, a Midwest native, deployed last December with the Army's 3rd Stryker Brigade, and on Feb. 1 was attached to a "village stability operation." Browne described him as highly decorated and said he had once been nominated for a Bronze Star.

Browne said the soldier and the rest of his brigade had initially been told they wouldn't have to go to Afghanistan.

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.

The soldier 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, but said it could be an issue at trial if experts believe it's relevant.

Browne and his co-counsel, Emma Scanlan, said they had met with the soldier's wife and other family members, and Browne said he spoke briefly by phone with the soldier, whom he described as stunned and distant.
"They were totally shocked," Browne said of the soldier's family. "He's never said anything antagonistic about Muslims. He's in general very mild-mannered."

Browne said he knew little of the facts of the shooting, but disputed reports that a combination of alcohol, stress and domestic issues caused him to snap. He said the family said they were unaware of any drinking problem, and described the couple's marriage as "fabulous." 

"There is no family dischord. That’s all a bunch of nonsense," said Browne.

Browne once defended serial killer Ted Bundy and recently represented Colton Harris-Moore, a youthful thief known as the "Barefoot Bandit."

Browne said he has only handled three or four military cases before. The soldier will also have at least one military lawyer.

I have had a lot of big cases, but this one is so unusual because it is so political almost more than legal," said Browne. "I think our government is in a real pickle. I can understand completely why Afghanis would be upset about this I can understand, completely why Muslims would be upset about this...I think the overriding question is what are we doing there anyway."

According to military lawyers, once attorneys involved in the initial investigation of an alleged crime involving a service member have what they believe to be a solid understanding of what happened and are satisfied with the evidence collected, they draft charges and present them to a commander.

A judgment is then made about whether there is probable cause to believe that an offense was committed and that the accused committed it.

That commander then "prefers" the charges to a convening authority, who typically is the commander of the brigade to which the accused is assigned but could be an officer of higher rank.

KING 5's Chris Daniels, Natalie Swaby, The New York Times and the Associated Press contributed to this report.