As the Army prepares for the prosecution of more Joint Base Lewis-McChord "Kill Team" members accused of murdering at least three Afghani civilians, we've learned that military officials have also decided to go forward with the prosecution of another accused JBLM killer, Sgt. John M. Russell, who is charged with shooting five fellow American soldiers in Iraq. Seattle Weekly told Russell's story in 2009 after he went on his rampage at Camp Liberty, headquarters for JBLM"s 4th Stryker Brigade. The bespectacled, 6'4", crew-cut Texan, on his third tour in Iraq, was suicidal and so destabilized that his commander confiscated his rifle and put him on unit watch, with a soldier-buddy to keep him company. But that didn't stop Russell from overpowering the buddy, taking his gun, and driving off to commit the worst U.S. soldier-on-soldier violence ever in the Iraq war:
Around 1:35 p.m. [on May 11, 2009], the enraged sergeant drove back to the [post mental-health] clinic and burst through the front door. An unnamed officer at another unit, who'd heard of the alert for Russell and decided to call the clinic on his own, was just relating the warning when over the phone he heard Russell begin firing.
The sergeant moved swiftly through the unsecured building, a single-level plywood structure of about 20 rooms, isolated in a mostly treeless expanse off a busy base highway. He mercilessly sprayed his unsuspecting victims, some of them pleading for him to put down his weapon. He encountered no return fire as he picked off unarmed personnel with the assault rifle. [It's the clinic's policy that everyone checks any guns at the door, which are then locked in a storage room.]
When the smoke cleared, two officers and three soldiers were dead on the clinic floor, and Russell was in custody . . . The sergeant, whose unit was under the command of Fort Lewis' 555th Engineer Brigade, known as the Triple Nickel, is now charged with five counts of murder and awaits court-martial, tentatively set for early next year at the Army base south of Tacoma. His mental condition will determine whether or not he will stand trial, possibly to face the death penalty.
Now, JBLM Maj. Kathleen Turner tells us that Russell, currently housed at the Butner Federal Correctional Complex in North Carolina, has been deemed competent by a board of medical specialists to stand trial. "Coordination is under way to transfer Sgt. Russell from Butner to an Army confinement facility," Turner says in an e-mail. "The next step in the judicial process will be an Article 32 hearing which is currently scheduled for 8 August 2011." At the hearing, similar to the civilian grand jury process, the court investigative officer will hear the evidence and recommend whether or not Russell should face court martial. A command officer will make the final decision.