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March 23, 2004
COLUMBUS, Ga. – At least one of four soldiers accused in the killing of a buddy in Georgia after their return home from Iraq may argue in court that they were unhinged by the horrors they had seen on the battlefield.
Attorney David S. West said he plans to have his client, Pfc. Alberto Martinez, examined for post-traumatic stress disorder.
“The most amazing thing to me is to hear the harrowing descriptions of what these kids went through,” West said. “They were one of the first units into Baghdad. All along the way, they were under fire. They were sleeping in their armored vehicles for fear they were going to get shot dead. They had people around them who were getting shot.”
Martinez is accused of stabbing Spc. Richard Davis, 25, of St. Charles, Mo., at least 30 times a few days after their unit returned from Iraq in July.
Davis had insulted a dancer during their drunken homecoming celebration and had gotten the group thrown out of a strip club in Columbus, not far from Fort Benning, where all the soldiers were based.
Two other soldiers are accused of assisting Martinez, while the fourth is accused of helping conceal Davis’ slaying. All four soldiers remain in jail. No trial date has been set.
They all were members of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, which sent 16,500 soldiers to Iraq from Fort Benning and Fort Stewart and spearheaded the drive on Baghdad.
“It became clear to me that that certainly had to have influenced these guys,” West said. “Certainly, it had to affect them from the psychological standpoint.”
He and another lawyer for the soldiers suggested the Army is not adequately screening veterans for psychological problems on their return from Iraq.
“They basically say, `Turn in your gun, report back whenever and have a nice time,'” West said.
Army officials said soldiers are screened for psychological problems upon their return, and they noted that crimes such as Davis’ slaying are rare among the thousands of soldiers who fought in Iraq. They have otherwise refused to comment on the crime.
District Attorney John Gray Conger, whose office brought the charges, also declined to comment Friday.
Martinez, 23, of Oceanside, Calif., Pvt. Jacob Burgoyne, 24, of Middleburg, Fla., and Pfc. Mario Naverette, 24, of San Juan, Texas, are charged with murder and other offenses. Pfc. Douglas Woodcoff, 24, of San Antonio, is charged with concealing a death.
After Davis was stabbed, some of the soldiers took his dog tags, tried to burn the body with lighter fluid and left it in the woods, police said. A few days later they allegedly returned and moved it to another spot.
Woodcoff’s attorney, J. Mark Shelnutt, said he does not plan to use combat stress as a defense because there is no evidence Woodcoff “had any contact with Davis dead or alive.” But he said he believes the soldiers’ experiences in the war turned what would normally be a minor setback – getting kicked out of a club – into a tragedy.
“These men saw anything and everything you can imagine,” Shelnutt said. “They describe the smell of death. They experienced everything horrible about war without their own deaths.”
Naverette’s attorney, Bobby Peters, said he believes post-traumatic stress disorder is a valid issue, but he does not plan to use it, arguing instead that his client tried to prevent the killing.
Burgoyne’s attorney did not return repeated calls. But earlier this month he asked for a psychological evaluation of Burgoyne.
Burgoyne’s parents have said their son displayed violent tendencies and had been taking antidepressants after serving in Kosovo, before his assignment to Iraq.
Jaime Cavazos, a spokesman for the Army Medical Command in San Antonio, said soldiers are given a checkup before they are deployed, and have access to combat-stress teams while in a combat zone.
When they return, they are checked again and fill out detailed a questionnaire that asks if they witnessed deaths or wounds and if they want help for stress or alcohol or family problems, Cavazos said.