Testimony has concluded in a hearing to determine whether Army Sgt. John M. Russell will stand trial for massacring five fellow U.S. service members, and the question for the Army to decide now is just how crazy was, or is, the 46-year-old crew-cut Texan. Seattle Weekly told Russell's story in 2009 after he went on his rampage at Camp Liberty, Iraq, headquarters for Joint Base Lewis-McChord's 4th Stryker Brigade. The bespectacled, 6'4" sergeant, attached to a Germany-based U.S. engineering battalion, was on his third tour in Iraq and had turned suicidal. His commander confiscated his rifle and put him on unit watch, with a soldier-buddy to keep him company. But Russell obtained a gun and drove to a military stress center, where he committed the worst U.S. soldier-on-soldier violence ever in the Iraq war:
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.
At an Article 32 hearing (similar to a civilian grand jury session) this week at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where Russell is being held and has been deemed mentally capable to stand trial, the sergeant's defense team concedes Russell undertook the murders but contend he was then mentally incompetent and couldn't understand what he was doing. Others agreed he was poorly treated by doctors at the stress center.
Capt. Blaine Ropson, a psychiatric nurse, told the court that "I didn't feel comfortable with [Russell's treatment]. I felt it was hostile. I hate to criticize a fellow officer, but it felt hostile. I don't feel comfortable saying that."
Testimony included claims that Russell told a doctor he could either help him get better or Russell would take his own life. He also asked an MP to arrest him before he did something he might regret.
The military judge hearing the evidence will either recommend a general court martial, modify the charges, or dismiss the case, and higher-ups will eventually make the final decision.