SEATTLE – The U.S. soldier accused of slaughtering 16 Afghan villagers last weekend saw his friend’s leg blown off the day before the rampage, his lawyer said Thursday.
Seattle attorney John Henry Browne said Thursday night that his client’s family provided him with details, which have not been independently verified. The injured man was another U.S. soldier, Browne said.
“His leg was blown off, and my client was standing next to him,” he said.
“We have been informed that at this small base that he was at, somebody was gravely injured the day before the alleged incident – gravely injured, and that affected all of the soldiers,” he said.
It isn’t clear whether the incident might have helped prompt the horrific middle-of-the-night attack on civilians in two villages last Sunday.
The soldier had been injured twice during his three previous deployments to Iraq, and he was loath to go to Afghanistan to begin with, Browne said.
Browne declined to release his client’s name, citing concerns for the soldier’s family, which is under protection on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, near Tacoma. But he said the soldier has two young children, ages 3 and 4.
The soldier, a 38-year-old father of two who is originally from the Midwest, deployed last December with the 3rd Stryker Brigade, and on Feb. 1 was attached to a “village stability operation.” Browne described him as highly decorated and said he had once been nominated for a Bronze Star, which he did not receive.
But he did say that the soldier and his family thought he was done fighting. During tours in Iraq, the soldier suffered a concussive head injury in a car accident caused by a roadside bomb, Browne said, and he suffered a battle-related injury that resulted in surgery to remove part of his foot.
He was screened by health officials after the head injury before he redeployed, Browne said. He did not know if his client had been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, but he said it could be an issue at trial if experts believe it’s relevant.
He and the rest of his brigade had initially been told they wouldn’t have to go to Afghanistan, Browne said.
Browne and his co-counsel, Emma Scanlan, said they had met with the soldier’s wife and other family members, and Browne said he spoke briefly by phone with the soldier, whom he described as stunned and distant.
His family was “totally shocked,” he said. “He’s never said anything antagonistic about Muslims. He’s in general very mild-mannered.”
Browne said he knew little of the facts of the shooting but disputed reports that a combination of alcohol, stress and domestic issues caused the soldier to snap. He said the family said they were unaware of any drinking problem and described the couple’s marriage as “fabulous.”
The soldier is accused of going on a shooting rampage in villages near his base in southern Afghanistan early Sunday, killing nine children and seven other civilians and then burning some of their bodies.
The suspect was flown out of Afghanistan on Wednesday evening to what officials described as a pretrial confinement facility in Kuwait. Officials have anonymously described him as a father of two who has been in the military for 11 years.
The soldier asked to be represented by Browne, a well-known Seattle defense attorney, when he was taken into custody, the lawyer said.
Browne said he’s spoken with the soldier but did not discuss the substance of the allegations. He said the soldier had no prior events in his Army dossier indicating misbehavior.
Browne once defended serial killer Ted Bundy and recently represented Colton Harris-Moore, a youthful thief known as the “Barefoot Bandit.”
Browne said he has only handled three or four military cases before. The soldier will also have at least one military lawyer.