November 28, 2010
By Tony Perry
The military equivalent of a preliminary hearing is set for Monday at Ft. Carson, Colo., for an Army private accused of premeditated murder in the shooting death of a senior Taliban commander being held prisoner in Afghanistan.
Pfc. David W. Lawrence, 20, is accused of shooting Mullah Mohebullah in the head on Oct. 17 while assigned to guard duty at a detention center in the Arghandab district of Kandahar province.
Under military law, premeditated murder can carry the death penalty.
The death was announced by an angry Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who vowed to launch his own investigation. Karzai has repeatedly criticized NATO forces for what he has termed a wanton use of deadly force.
The case sits at the intersection of two of the more controversial aspects of the war: the testy relationship between the U.S. and Karzai, and the military’s treatment of soldiers who show signs of mental instability while in the war zone.
In the days before the shooting, Lawrence had been seen by medical personnel at Kandahar and given drugs for depression and sleeplessness, his attorneys said. Shortly afterward, Lawrence was assigned to guard duty, a task for which he had no training.
Lawrence’s parents, Brett and Wendy Lawrence, said that their son had told them repeatedly in e-mail messages and phone calls that he was hearing voices, including one that told him how to avoid the buried roadside bombs that are the top killer of NATO and Afghan troops.
“He said those voices were guiding him and telling him what to do,” Wendy Lawrence said.
The stress and danger of Kandahar, a major battleground between the U.S. and Taliban fighters, was causing Lawrence’s mental state to deteriorate, his parents said.
“He said it was the worst place on earth,” said Brett Lawrence, a hospital employee in Lawrenceburg, Ind.
Wendy Lawrence said several of her relatives had mental illnesses including paranoia and schizophrenia. David is her son from a previous marriage.
The Army has ordered a sanity board investigation. Lawrence’s civilian lawyer, James Culp, was denied a request to delay the preliminary hearing, called an Article 32, until the sanity board reached its conclusions.
“We are going to an Article 32 for a kid who is hearing voices,” Culp said. He said he was concerned the Army might be rushing the case to court-martial to appease Karzai.
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