The U.S. soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians didn't want to be deployed for a fourth time, according to attorney John Henry Browne.

Share story

The U.S. soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians last weekend had twice been injured during tours in Iraq and was reluctant to leave on his fourth deployment, a Seattle lawyer said Thursday.

“He wasn’t thrilled about going on another deployment,” said the lawyer, John Henry Browne. “He was told he wasn’t going back, and then he was told he was going.”

Browne, a well-known Seattle defense attorney who most recently defended “Barefoot Bandit” Colton Harris-Moore, said he has been requested to represent the soldier, a 38-year-old staff sergeant from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, south of Tacoma.

The soldier lives in the Seattle area and asked to be represented by Browne when he was taken into custody, the lawyer said. Browne said he has met with the staff sergeant’s family, and unless the soldier is returned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord in the next few days, he will travel to meet the soldier wherever he is being held.

Browne declined to give the soldier’s name, which the Army has not released, but said he has two young children, ages 3 and 4.

Browne said he has talked with the soldier and characterized him as “shocked.” Browne suggested the soldier had been suffering the stress of multiple deployments, but he said it wasn’t clear whether the man has exhibited symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

However, the lawyer said that Dr. Richard Adler, an expert in PTSD, will be working for the defense team.

Browne described the soldier as highly decorated and said he had twice been injured during deployments to Iraq, once suffering a concussive head injury and once a serious leg injury in which he lost part of his foot.

Browne said the soldier is originally from the Midwest, but would not be more specific.

Some reports have indicated that alcohol may have been a factor in the shootings. Browne said that as far as the soldier’s family knew, he did not have a drinking problem. He also said reports that there may have been marital problems were not correct.

“They’ve got a fabulous marriage,” Browne said.

However, a senior American official told The New York Times that on the night of the massacre the soldier had been drinking alcohol — a violation of military rules in combat zones — and suffering from stress related to his fourth combat tour and tensions with his wife about the deployments.

“When it all comes out, it will be a combination of stress, alcohol and domestic issues — he just snapped,” said the official, who has been briefed on the investigation and who spoke on condition of anonymity because the soldier has not yet been formally charged.

As new details emerged about possible reasons behind the shootings, the American official said the military is preparing to move the sergeant to a prison in the United States as early as Friday, most likely to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., just a day after he was flown to a detention site in Kuwait from Afghanistan.

The soldier is suspected of going on a shooting rampage in villages near his base in southern Afghanistan early Sunday, killing nine children and seven other civilians and then burning some of their bodies. The shooting, which followed a controversial Quran-burning incident involving U.S. soldiers, has outraged Afghan officials.

The suspect was flown out of Afghanistan on Wednesday evening to what officials describe as a pretrial confinement facility in Kuwait. Officials have anonymously described him as a father of two who has been in the military for 11 years. He has served three tours in Iraq and began his first deployment to Afghanistan in December.

A congressional source, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the information, told The Associated Press that he was with the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, before being assigned to a village-stability operation near the villages where the attack took place.

Browne recently represented Harris-Moore, a youthful thief known as the “Barefoot Bandit” who gained international attention for stealing airplanes, boats and cars during a two-year run from the law. Browne and his co-counsel, Emma Scanlan, helped Harris-Moore reach state and federal plea deals, then persuaded a state judge to give him the low end of the sentencing range: seven years in prison.

Browne said he has only handled three or four military cases before. The soldier will also have at least one military lawyer.

Military lawyers say once attorneys involved in the initial investigation of an alleged crime involving a service member have what they believe to be a solid understanding of what happened and are satisfied with the evidence collected, they draft charges and present them to a commander.

That person then makes a judgment on whether there is probable cause to believe that an offense was committed and that the accused committed it.

That commander then “prefers” the charges to a convening authority — typically the commander of the brigade to which the accused is assigned, but sometimes of higher rank.

Seattle Times staff reporter Mike Carter contributed to this story.