The US soldier accused of slaughtering 16 Afghan civilians saw his friend’s leg blown off the day before the rampage, his lawyer said today.
John Browne also described his client as “mild-mannered” and said he had been surprised and reluctant to leave for Afghanistan on his fourth deployment.
Mr Browne, 65, said that according to his client’s family, he was standing next to another US soldier when the serviceman was horribly injured.
“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.
Mr Browne offered no other details of the incident and it was no clear whether it prompted the horrific middle-of-the-night attack on 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, the lawyer said.
Mr Browne declined to name the soldier’s name amid concerns for his family, under protection on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, near Tacoma. He said the 38-year-old soldier had two children, aged three and four.
The soldier, originally from the Midwest, deployed last December with the 3rd Stryker Brigade, and on February 1 was attached to a “village stability operation”. Mr Browne described him as highly decorated and said he had once been nominated for a Bronze Star.
During tours in Iraq, the soldier suffered a concussive head injury in a car accident caused by a roadside bomb, Mr 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, Mr Browne said. He did not know if his client had been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, but said it could be an issue at trial if experts believe it was relevant.
He and the rest of his brigade had initially been told they would not have to go to Afghanistan, Mr Browne said.
Mr Browne and his co-counsel, Emma Scanlan, said they had met the soldier’s wife and other family members, and Mr Browne said he spoke briefly by phone with the soldier, whom he described as stunned and distant.
Mr Browne said of the family: “They were totally shocked. He’s never said anything antagonistic about Muslims. He’s in general very mild-mannered.”
The lawyer 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 was unaware of any drinking problem and described the couple’s marriage as “fabulous”.
The soldier is suspected of going on a shooting rampage in villages near his base, killing nine children and seven other civilians and then burning some of their bodies. The shooting, which followed a controversial Koran-burning incident involving US soldiers, has outraged Afghan officials.
The suspect was flown out of Afghanistan on Wednesday evening to what officials describe as a pre-trial confinement facility in Kuwait.
The soldier asked to be represented by Mr Browne when he was taken into custody, the lawyer said.
He said the soldier had no prior events in his army dossier indicating misbehaviour.
Mr Browne, who once defended serial killer Ted Bundy and recently represented Colton Harris-Moore, a youthful thief known as the “Barefoot Bandit”, said he had only handled three or four military cases before, in a career spanning more than 40 years. The soldier will also have at least one military lawyer.
Mr Browne is known equally for his zeal in representing his clients and his flair before television cameras.
In addition to being a lawyer for Bundy, he helped Benjamin Ng avoid the death penalty following his conviction in Washington state’s worst mass killing, the massacre of 13 people at a Seattle restaurant.
In one of his greatest legal victories, he ensured that a man who fled to Brazil after starting a blaze that killed four firefighters would not face murder charges upon his return because the extraditing country – Brazil – did not have a felony murder statute equivalent to Washington’s.
Mr Browne recently represented Harris-Moore, who gained international attention for stealing planes, boats and cars during a two-year run from the law.
He helped Harris-Moore reach state and federal plea deals, then persuaded a state judge to give him the low end of the sentencing range – seven years in prison.