Wash. court-martial begins in 2009 Iraq killings

MIKE BAKER
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Soldiers assisting with communications and security tasks stand outside the building at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., where the court-martial for U.S. Army Sgt. John Russell began, Monday, May 6, 2013. Russell has already pleaded guilty to killing five fellow servicemen in Iraq in 2009, and and prosecutors are expected to argue that the killings were premeditated. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. (AP) — A court-martial proceeding began Monday against an Army sergeant for the fatal shootings of five fellow servicemen in Iraq.

Sgt. John Russell, of Sherman, Texas, already pleaded guilty to the killings but did not agree they were premeditated. Prosecutors will seek to prove that Russell plotted the shootings in advance.

Russell, who is from Sherman, Texas, is being held at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, about 40 miles south of Seattle.

The shooting was one of the worst instances of soldier-on-soldier violence in the Iraq war and raised questions about the mental health problems for soldiers caused by repeated tours of duty.

A hearing on possible charges was held in August 2009 at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Two evaluations presented during that hearing said Russell suffered from severe depression with psychotic features and chronic post-traumatic stress disorder. A March 2011 evaluation said the major depression with psychotic features was in partial remission.

Russell was nearing the end of his third tour when his behavior changed, members of his unit testified in 2009. They said he became more distant in the days before the May 11, 2009, attack, and that he seemed paranoid that his unit was trying to end his career.

On May 8, Russell sought help at a combat stress clinic at Camp Stryker, where his unit was located. On May 10, Russell was referred to the Camp Liberty clinic, where he received counseling and prescription medication.

Witnesses said they saw Russell the following day crying and talking about hurting himself. He went back to the Camp Liberty clinic, where a doctor told him he needed to get help or he would hurt himself. Russell tried to surrender to military police to lock him up so he wouldn't hurt himself or others, witnesses said.

Military prosecutors say Russell left the clinic and later returned with a rifle he took from his unit headquarters and began firing.

The shooting killed Navy Cmdr. Charles Springle, of North Carolina; Pfc. Michael Edward Yates Jr., of Maryland; Dr. Matthew Houseal, of Texas; Sgt. Christian Bueno-Galdos, of New Jersey; and Spc. Jacob Barton, of Missouri.