Today’s NYT features this lengthy piece on homicides committed by Iraq and Afghanistan veterans after returning to the States.
The article reports that the “Times found 121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killing in this country, or were charged with one, after their return from war. In many of those cases, combat trauma and the stress of deployment — along with alcohol abuse, family discord and other attendant problems — appear to have set the stage for a tragedy that was part destruction, part self-destruction.”
Even though “[t]hree-quarters of these veterans were still in the military at the time of the killing” and “[a] quarter of the victims were fellow service members,” most of the resulting criminal cases were “prosecuted not by the military justice system but by civilian courts in state after state.” But the article does discuss one prominent Marine Corps court-martial case:
When Archie O’Neil, a gunnery sergeant in the Marines, returned from a job handling dead bodies in Iraq, he became increasingly paranoid, jumpy and fearful — moving into his garage, eating M.R.E.’s, wearing his camouflage uniform, drinking heavily and carrying a gun at all times, even to answer the doorbell.
“It was like I put one person on a ship and sent him over there, and they sent me a totally different person back,” Monique O’Neil, his wife, testified.
A well-respected and decorated noncommissioned officer who did not want to endanger his chances for advancement, Sergeant O’Neil did not seek help for the PTSD that would later be diagnosed by government psychologists. “The Marine way,” his lawyer said at a preliminary hearing, “was to suck it up.”
On the eve of his second deployment to Iraq in 2004, Sergeant O’Neil fatally shot his mistress, Kimberly O’Neal, after she threatened to kill his family while he was gone.
During a military trial at Camp Pendleton, Calif., a Marine defense lawyer argued that “the ravages of war” provided the “trigger” for the killing. In 2005, a military jury convicted Sergeant O’Neil of murder but declined to impose the minimum sentence, life with the possibility of parole, considering it too harsh. A second jury, however, convened only for sentencing, voted the maximum penalty, life without parole. The case is on appeal.