Seattle attorney John Henry Browne is complaining that the Army is withholding evidence in the massacre case against his client, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales. But it's just three weeks into that investigation. Texas attorney James Culp is three years into the defense of Sgt. John M. Russell in Joint Base Lewis-McChord's "other" massacre case, and he's still being stalled by the Army, he says. Now he's asking for removal of the colonel overseeing the case after an angry episode at the base last week, according to documents obtained by Seattle Weekly.
Culp says his client has gained 50 pounds and has elevated heart and blood-pressure rates due to anti-depressive and anti-psychotic drugs required to treat his mental illness and make him competent to stand trial. He's being held at the base prison while he proceeds to court-martial this year for killing five fellow service members at Camp Liberty, Iraq, in 2009. It was the deadliest act of soldier-on-soldier violence in that war.
The attorney says the call for medical care and other requests - including the need for a special investigator and transfer of all physical evidence in the case to Lewis-McChord - were made more than a month ago, but none was acted upon.
According to Culp's memorandum, an Army prosecutor last week claimed in an e-mail he had never seen the requests, prompting Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, lead military counsel of Russell's defense team, to respond:
Again, there seems to be some sort of miscommunication, which amazes me in a case as serious as this. Actually, with respect, it's appalling that these requests have not been acted upon. I speak as an advocate for a seriously mentally ill client charged with the gravest offenses in the UCMJ [military law], and of course intend no disrespect at all. Some explanation seems to be both in order and reasonable to expect, if for no other reason than to prevent similar delays in the future.
In response, Culp says in his memo, Col. Kurt A. Didier, the judge advocate overseeing the case for the Army, walked into Vandeveld's office "without knocking or announcing himself," and "appearing visibly angry," stated he was giving Vandeveld "a simple choice":
The puzzling language you used in your message this morning must be corrected. I never received your messages. Your choice is this: either you send out an e-mail to the recipients of the message correcting the language and stating that I did not receive the messages, or I will.
Culp says Didier repeated the phrase "or I will" several times, "giving it an ominous
dimension clearly intended as a threat." Vandeveld responded: "You're really taking this personally, aren't you?" And Didier replied "Yes, I am. You are implying that I failed to act on submissions in a timely fashion. So you send out the message or I will."
Vandeveld instead sent test messages to see if e-mails were getting through to Didier, but Didier, Culp says, refused to check and see if they were received, then stormed out of Vandeveld's office.
Culp calls it a clear case of intimidation and unlawful command influence. He is asking I-Command to replace Didier as staff judge advocate, saying "recent facts demonstrate that Col. Didier does not possess the requisite even temperament or reflective judgment to properly advise the General Court Martial Convening Authority in a court-martial matter as significant as Sgt. Russell's case."
Lewis-McChord command has not so far responded to our request for comment.