By David Beasley
ATLANTA (Reuters) - Lawyers for a decorated Vietnam War veteran due to be executed in Georgia next week say his life should be spared because he was suffering from a combat-related mental disorder when he killed a sheriff’s deputy in 1998.
Andrew Brannan's guilt is not disputed. He shot Laurens County Deputy Sheriff Kyle Dinkheller, 22, nine times during a traffic stop, a scene caught on tape by the deputy's patrol car camera.
Defense attorneys argue Brannan, 66, should not be put to death for behavior they say is linked to post-traumatic stress disorder triggered by his combat service. On Monday, they will ask the state Board of Pardons and Paroles to commute Brannan's sentence to life in prison without parole.
“Commuting his sentence would honor his very meritorious service to this country,” said Brian Kammer, one of Brannan’s lawyers. “We should not be executing those we sent into harm’s way and who were deeply wounded, physically and mentally.”
Kammer said Brannan’s trial lawyers did not fully explain to a jury the severity of his combat experiences in Vietnam as a forward artillery observer in the Army.
“Andrew saw death repeatedly, including that of comrades and two immediate commanding officers, and remained plagued with guilt over these deaths decades later,” the inmate's current attorneys wrote to the parole board.
Brannan received Army commendations and a Bronze Star for his service as an officer, Kammer said. He was on full Army disability for PTSD and had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder before killing Dinkheller, the lawyer said.
Brannan, who had no prior criminal record, was driving 98 miles per hour on a Georgia highway when Dinkheller pulled him over in January 1998, according to court records.
The video recording showed Brannan stepping out of his truck, cursing and telling the deputy to shoot him.
Brannan began “dancing in the street, saying, ‘Here I am, here I am,’" court documents say. He went to his truck, retrieved a rifle and started shooting the deputy.
Brannan pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity at his trial. Some experts testified that during the shooting he suffered a flashback from combat, but a court-appointed psychiatrist said Brannan was sane and may have killed the deputy because he believed the officer was being disrespectful.
Brannan's execution is scheduled for Tuesday. He would be the first person put the death in the United States this year.
(Reporting by David Beasley; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Eric Beech)