JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD — An Army sergeant pleaded guilty Monday to killing four other soldiers and a Navy officer in 2009 at a mental-health clinic in Baghdad during the Iraq war, describing how he gunned down the men and saying he was in a “rage” when he began his rampage.
The plea agreement in a military court at Joint Base Lewis-McChord means Sgt. John Russell will avoid the death sentence. His maximum sentence would be a life term. He testified Monday to persuade Army judge Col. David Conn to accept the agreement. Conn agreed.
Russell — who is from Sherman, Texas — went on a shooting spree at the Camp Liberty Combat Stress Center near Baghdad in May 2009.
In court, Russell said he was in a “rage” when he opened fire.
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“I wanted the pain to stop,” he testified.
Russell was nearing the end of his third tour when his behavior changed, members of his unit testified in 2009. They said he became more distant
attack and that he seemed paranoid
his unit was trying to end his career.
On May 8, Russell sought help at a combat stress clinic at Camp Stryker, where his unit was located.
On May 10, Russell was referred to the Camp Liberty clinic, where he received counseling and prescription medication.
The next day witnesses saw him crying and talking about hurting himself.
He returned to the Camp Liberty clinic, where a doctor told him he needed help or he would hurt himself. Russell tried to surrender to military police so he wouldn’t hurt himself or others, witnesses said.
Prosecutors say Russell left the clinic and later returned with a rifle and began firing.
Killed were Navy Cmdr. Charles Springle, 52, of Wilmington, N.C., and four Army service members: Pfc. Michael Edward Yates Jr., 19, of Federalsburg, Md.; Dr. Matthew Houseal, 54, of Amarillo, Texas; Sgt. Christian E. Bueno-Galdos, 25, of Paterson, N.J.; and Spc. Jacob D. Barton, 20, of Lenox, Mo.
Of the dead, Russell had interacted only with Springle, who tried to help him a couple of days before the attack.
Yates raised a gun at him after Russell killed Springle and Houseal, but Yates dropped the gun and ran.
Yates “ran and I ran after him, and I shot him,” Russell said.
Yates’ mother, Shawna Van Blargan, joined Springle’s wife and son in court. They held each other tightly as Russell talked about killing their family members.
Van Blargan cried out when Russell described killing her son. She left the courtroom.
Russell also remembered finding Barton hiding under a table. Russell shot him in the head.
Bueno-Galdos tried to grab Russell’s rifle. Russell testified he shot Bueno-Galdos in the chest, then shot him once more while he lay face down on the ground.