Hearing set for soldier in health clinic shootings

Monday, August 8, 2011 | 10:08 a.m. CDT

FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. — A key military hearing will begin Monday for a U.S. soldier charged in a 2009 shooting that killed five service members at a mental health clinic in Iraq.

Army Sgt. John Russell is accused of carrying out the deadliest act of soldier-on-soldier violence during the war in Iraq. The case brought attention to the issues of combat stress and morale as troops increasingly served multiple combat tours.

Russell had gone to counseling to deal with combat stress, but an investigation found lapses in how the military monitored him and how authorities responded once the shooting began at a base on the edge of Baghdad.

Russell faces five counts of premeditated murder, two counts of attempted premeditated murder and one count of assault. During the hearing beginning Monday at Fort Leavenworth, a military officer will hear evidence and decide if Russell should face a military trial. The proceedings are similar to a civilian grand jury.

Killed in the shooting were Navy Cmdr. Charles Springle, 52, of Wilmington, N.C., and four Army service members: Pfc. Michael Edward Yates Jr., 19, of Federalsburg, Md.; Matthew Houseal, of Amarillo, Texas; Sgt. Christian E. Bueno-Galdos, 25, of Paterson, N.J.; and Spc. Jacob D. Barton, 20, of Lenox, Mo.

The incident prompted the military to conduct an investigation, resulting in a 325-page report that was critical of the way the military was handling mental health issues while soldiers were deployed and how they were treated.

Russell, who was assigned to the 54th Engineer Battalion of Bamberg, Germany, was near the end of his third deployment when the shooting occurred in May 2009.

According to the report, Russell was on his fourth visit to the clinic when the appointment was cut short because he became uncooperative. Military police were called in and ordered him returned to his unit.

Less than an hour later, according to the report, he grabbed an M-16 rifle from a fellow soldier, stole a white Ford Explorer SUV and returned to the counseling facility. As the shooting began, a soldier in another room of the counseling facility reported hearing repeated gunshots and scrambled out a window to safety.

Witness reports taken after the shooting described Russell as paranoid and angry in the days leading to the shooting, saying his behavior was "deteriorating."

In the report, Russell's unit acknowledged that it lacked the policies and procedures to effectively guide or treat soldiers who were suffering from combat stress or deemed at-risk of incident.

Russell, who is originally from Texas and grew up near a town called Tom Bean about 60 miles north of Dallas, is being held at the military's Joint Regional Confinement Facility at Fort Leavenworth. He previously was held at a mental health facility in North Carolina for treatment before being moved to the Kansas post.

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