FORT CARSON A baby-faced, chain-smoking infantryman who was on a prescribed antidepressant when he allegedly shot and killed a captured Taliban member is the latest challenge to the Armys ability to address mental health problems in the ranks while fighting two lengthy wars.
Pfc. David Lawrence, 20, also had told family members before the shooting that he was hearing voices.
Lawrence is charged with premeditated murder in the Oct. 17 death of the prisoner, who prosecutors say was asleep in a jail cell when he was shot. If convicted, Lawrence could face execution or life in prison.
His case comes as the military grapples with a rising numbers of suicides, post-traumatic stress disorder cases and traumatic brain injuries. At the same time, commanders are striving to maintain the Armys numerical strength and soldier discipline in the face of repeated deployments.
At a military court hearing for Lawrence last week, prosecutors suggested he was faking mental illness in hopes of getting a lighter sentence. Lawrence asked for and received help from mental-health providers in Afghanistan, according to testimony.
But when he returned to his unit, he wasnt given the care or supervision he needed, his civilian attorney, James Culp, said in an interview. Instead, Culp said, he was assigned to longer-than-normal shifts on guard duty.
I think what this case shows is theres these complex, contradictory needs in the military, said Barbara Van Dahlen, a clinical psychologist and founder of Give An Hour, a nonprofit that provides free mental-health services to returning troops and their families.
On the one hand ... we have to look out for these folks, she said. On the other hand, we have to keep control of our forces.
Lawrence was assigned to Fort Carsons 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, and was stationed at a U.S. outpost in the Arghandab Valley just outside the city of Kandahar. He was standing guard at the cell of the Taliban member, identified in Army documents only as Mohebullah, who was awaiting transfer to NATO coalition custody.
At the Fort Carson hearing, prosecutors described Lawrence as a zealot bent on killing the enemy. They said his words and actions indicated he deliberately arranged to be the only guard on duty at the prisoners cell.
Prosecutors said Lawrence didnt tell Army officials until after the shooting that he was hearing voices, and that after his arrest he spoke of playing the crazy card.
Lawrences father, Brett Lawrence of Lawrenceburg, Ind., and lawyer Culp portray the soldier as a troubled young man from a family with a history of schizophrenia. Before the shooting, Lawrence was badly shaken by the deaths of two friends in Afghanistan, including a chaplain, his father and his lawyer said.
Brett Lawrence said that if his son failed to report hearing voices to Army doctors and officers in Afghanistan, he understands why.
David Lawrence saw what his uncle and his grandmother and his aunt had went through, how they were treated when they were hearing voices, the father told The Associated Press. I believe he kept it to himself (in Afghanistan) so he would not be ridiculed like they were.
Culp, hired by Lawrences father, said the soldier never mentioned playing the crazy card until after he spoke with a military defense attorney at a hearing in Afghanistan.
Under questioning by Culp at last weeks hearing, some soldiers testified the crazy card comment might have been a product of Lawrences conversation with the military lawyer. The soldiers spoke by speaker phone from Afghanistan.
Playing the crazy card may have been Lawrences way of saying the military lawyer gave him some hope of using a mental illness defense, Culp told the AP after the hearing.
Brett Lawrence said he doesnt believe his son would fake mental illness to excuse a fatal shooting.
My son would not throw his life away for one person. He is a smart kid. He would not go in there and just do it because he wanted to kill somebody, the father said.
Van Dahlen said a trained mental health provider will be able to determine whether David Lawrence has schizophrenia.
You cant really fake being schizophrenic ... not when an evaluator is looking at this, she said.