US soldier found guilty over 2009 killings in Iraq

Agence France-Presse

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Russell, who has previously denied responsibility, admitted the killings last month

LOS ANGELES, USA – A military judge found a US soldier guilty Monday of killing 5 of his colleagues in Iraq 4 years ago, a spokesman said, after the defendant made a plea deal to escape a death sentence.

Army Sergeant John Russell was convicted over the May 2009 murders at a clinic for soldiers suffering from war-related stress at Camp Liberty, the largest US base in Iraq.

Russell, who has previously denied responsibility, admitted the killings last month, in a plea deal worked out by his lawyers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), in the northwestern US state of Washington.

On Monday, the judge formally found him guilty. “Sgt. Russell was found guilty of premeditated murder,” Gary Dangerfield, spokesman for the military base south of Seattle, told AFP.

He faces life behind bars without the possibility of parole, as well as forfeiting pay and a dishonorable discharge, he said, adding that sentencing could take more than a week.

At the time, the Camp Liberty killings represented the single deadliest toll on US forces in a month in Iraq, and came at a sensitive moment in the US military’s occupation of the country it invaded in 2003.

Russell was on his 3rd tour of duty in Iraq, and his unit was preparing to leave the country.

Due to concerns over Russell’s mental state, his commanding officer had ordered about a week before the shooting that his weapon be confiscated and that he get counseling.

After pleading guilty last month, Russell gave an account of the killings for the first time. The victims were 3 soldiers receiving care at the clinic and two medical officers.

“I just did it out of rage, sir,” he told the military judge, Colonel David Conn, describing how he walked from room to room firing at mental health workers and patients.

“I was upset. I do not remember being angry, but I know that everyone who witnessed me outside the combat stress clinic said I looked angry,” the Los Angeles Times quoted him as saying. –

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