FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) – Attorneys for an Army sergeant charged with killing five service members at an Iraq military base’s mental health clinic are concerned about the soldier’s medical treatment at a prison in Washington state.
Civilian lawyer James Culp and military attorneys representing Sgt. John Russell filed a request last month with the Army’s I Corps headquarters that Russell receive proper care. Russell, 47, is accused of carrying out the deadliest act of soldier-on-soldier violence in the war in Iraq as he was nearing his third tour in 2009.
He was moved in January from a military prison at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas to the prison at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, where he is awaiting court martial later this year.
“At a minimum, we believe regular care from a board-certified psychiatrist is required to ensure that Sgt. Russell’s medications are appropriate and effective and to generally monitor this psychotic, deeply depressed soldier,” the attorneys wrote in their request.
Culp said Russell is taking anti-depressive and anti-psychotic drugs that are causing his physical condition to deteriorate by elevating his heart rate, blood pressure and weight.
Russell reportedly has gained 50 pounds as a result of the medications. The drugs are part of his ongoing treatment for mental illness that is at the heart of his case.
“I want John’s problems to be fixed,” Culp said, adding that he’s worried that Russell’s physical health could lead to a stroke or heart attack.
Maj. Chris Ophardt, a spokesman for I Corps, declined to comment Tuesday about the request from Russell’s attorneys, citing medical privacy and the ongoing criminal case.
Russell, who grew up near Sherman, Texas, about 60 miles north of Dallas, is charged with five counts of murder for the May 2009 shooting deaths of four fellow Army soldiers and a Navy officer at a combat stress center at Camp Liberty near Baghdad. He’s accused of opening fire at the clinic after becoming increasingly frustrated with the quality of care he was getting from mental health providers there.
Killed in the shooting were Navy Cmdr. Charles Springle, 52, of Wilmington, N.C., and the following Army service members: Pfc. Michael Edward Yates Jr., 19, of Federalsburg, Md.; Dr. Matthew Houseal, of Amarillo, Texas; Sgt. Christian E. Bueno-Galdos, 25, of Paterson, N.J.; and Spc. Jacob D. Barton, 20, of Lenox, Mo.
A military judge recommended that Russell not face the death penalty for the charges. A final determination is pending with Army authorities at Lewis-McChord.
The attorneys making the care request said Russell’s “not a typical prisoner” at Lewis-McChord and requires a higher standard of care.
“The failure of the Army mental health system to identify and adequately treat Sgt. Russell’s mental health disorders undoubtedly contributed to the tragedy which has led to his present confinement,” they wrote. “Let us avert another tragedy by providing Sgt. Russell with the care that he desperately needs now.”
Russell’s family and attorneys said during his Article 32 hearing in 2011, the military equivalent to a preliminary hearing, that the soldier had experienced nightmares before his deployment to Iraq stemming from previous combat tours. He also served time in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Culp said he didn’t believe the Army was intentionally bringing physical harm to Russell and that his client didn’t need to be moved back to Fort Leavenworth or transferred to another location for proper care.
Russell was assigned to the 54th Engineer Battalion, based in Bamberg, Germany. That unit is under the command of the 555th Engineer Brigade headquartered at Lewis-McChord, which is directly involved with Russell’s court martial.
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