SEATTLE — The attorney for an Army staff sergeant who allegedly killed 16 Afghan villagers in a shooting spree said Thursday that he has urged his client, who is detained in Kuwait, not to discuss details over the phone because of worries that Army personnel could be eavesdropping.
Attorney John Henry Browne said he has not asked the soldier about what happened when he left his base in Afghanistan on the Sunday the killings occurred.
Nonetheless, Browne said he found it “very offensive” that reports of marital problems between the soldier and his wife were being suggested as a factor in the shootings. The couple had financial problems, but nothing severe, he said, adding they had “a very strong marriage.”
Browne also said that until he can speak more with the soldier, he cannot address reports that the man may have been drinking before the killings occurred.
Neither the Army nor Browne have identified the soldier, who was flown to Kuwait by the military after the killings. Browne said the suspect probably will remain there for several weeks.
The lawyer confirmed that surveillance tape shows his client returning to his base the night that the villagers — mostly women and children — were found dead. But when asked about statements by officials that his client confessed to the shootings after he returned to camp, Browne said that the “only statement” the soldier has made was “that he wanted to talk to his attorney.”
Browne met Wednesday with the soldier’s wife, who was moved for safety reasons with their two children to Joint Base Fort Lewis-McChord in Washington state, where he was based. She is “totally shocked” about the allegations, he said.
Military officials have said they will not identify the soldier until he is formally charged, but legal experts say it’s highly unusual for a suspect’s name in a high-profile case to be kept a secret for so long. Browne told the Associated Press that the soldier is 38 years old and originally from the Midwest.
Browne said that the soldier is “highly decorated” and had been hurt twice in Iraq, suffering a head concussion and an injury that resulted in the loss of part of his foot. Browne is a prominent Seattle-based defense lawyer who has represented serial killer Ted Bundy and Colton Harris-Moore, known as the Barefoot Bandit.
The killings in Afghanistan have led to questions about the Army’s deployment of the soldier, who had served three tours in Iraq and received a diagnosis of traumatic brain injury. He was later deemed fit for duty, and it remains unclear whether anything in his medical history could have led to his alleged actions.
Browne said that according to his client’s family, the soldier saw his friend’s leg blown off the day before the rampage, and the incident affected all of the soldiers at the base. “His leg was blown off, and my client was standing next to him,” Browne told the AP. The details have not been independently verified.
Browne said the soldier’s entire unit was upset about being deployed to Afghanistan, because members received little notice.
Col. Gary Kolb, a spokesman for U.S. and NATO forces, said the suspect received a pretrial confinement hearing on Tuesday. The military could detain him for as many as 120 days before formally charging him.
Researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.