Joint Base Lewis-McChord officials today announced that Sgt. John M. Russell, accused of murdering five fellow service members in Iraq two years ago, has officially been charged with the massacre and will face the death penalty if convicted at court-martial, despite a judge's earlier recommendation that Russell not face execution because he is mentally ill.
Five specifications of premeditated murder; one specification of aggravated assault; one specification of attempted murder.
"If convicted of all charges," Kubistek says, "the maximum possible punishment is death."
As recounted in a 2009 SW cover story, Russell, now 47, attached to a Germany-based U.S. engineering battalion under Fort Lewis Stryker command, 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 at Camp Liberty, killing four soldiers and a Navy officer.
Last year, Col. James Pohl, chief judge of the Guantanamo Bay war crimes court and investigating officer into the Ford Hood massacre by Major Nidal Malik Hasan, presided over Russell's competency hearings, finding that Russell has an "undisputed mental disease or defect" that makes "the death penalty inappropriate in this case."
The Army has not explained why it has decided to seek the penalty anyway.
Russell is being defended by Texas attorney James Culp, who last month told us he's being stalled by the Army and has sought removal of the colonel overseeing the case after an angry episode between the defense and prosecution teams at JBLM, where Russell is being held. No date has been set yet for the court-martial.