JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD — The court-martial trial for Army Sgt. John Russell has concluded. Now a military judge will decide whether the 14-year Army veteran was deluded by depression and despair as he shot five fellow service members in Iraq. Or he may decide Russell was taking revenge against psychiatrists who had blocked his hoped-for early exit from the Army.
The trial concluded Saturday and the judge is expected to rule Monday. A sentencing hearing is expected to take another week.
Russell already has pleaded guilty to five specifications of murder. The judge will determine whether the acts were premeditated. That’s a key factor in whether he must serve life in prison.
Army prosecutors argued Saturday that Russell was trying to paint himself as mentally ill even before the murders in an attempt to win early retirement.
“He wanted out,” Maj. Daniel Mazzone said.
Fearing that a sexual harassment complaint could derail his career, Russell was looking for a way to salvage his benefits. He was told the day before the killings by psychiatrist Michael Jones that a mental disability retirement would require “some kind of suicidal psychotic crisis,” Mazzone said.
But when Russell saw Jones again the next day, the psychiatrist said he had no intention of giving him “a golden ticket” out of the Army.
When Russell returned about an hour later, prosecutors say, he was looking for Jones, but wound up killing two patients, a bystander and two other mental health workers, including Navy Cmdr. Keith Springle, who had also briefly treated Russell in the days before the shootings. Jones escaped injury by jumping out a window.
Defense lawyers presented testimony from a leading forensic psychiatrist and the Army’s mental health board, which found that Russell suffered from severe depression with psychotic features and post-combat stress.
Russell, on his fifth combat deployment, had long sought help with sleep troubles and was stammering and crying for help in the days before the shooting. His commanders were so alarmed that they disarmed him and sent him for repeated visits to mental health clinics, his civilian defense lawyer noted.