Saturday, March 8, 2008

Vet using war stress defense found not guilty of murder

Staff Writer

BUNNELL -- An Iraq war veteran was found not guilty by reason of insanity Friday after psychiatrists said he was having a flashback when he shot and killed a man.

Brian Christopher Wothers, 26, of Ormond Beach will live in a mental-health treatment facility until he is no longer deemed a threat to himself or others.
He was accused of killing 26-year-old Jeffrey Maxwell, a traveling construction worker from Denison, Texas, who was in Florida on an assignment. Maxwell's body was found May 26, 2006, in a wooded area near Old Kings Road in Palm Coast.

Wothers had a history of post-traumatic stress disorder related to his military duties when he saw piles of bodies and witnessed shootings, his attorneys said.

Prosecutors and Wothers' attorneys agreed to a trial by Circuit Judge Kim C. Hammond -- on charges of robbery and first-degree murder -- instead of by a jury.

"He's likely to suffer from that disorder for the foreseeable future," Hammond said.

Three adults hugged and kissed Wothers after the trial. They declined comment for this story.

"I'll call you," Wothers whispered to a woman as he left the courtroom to return to the Flagler County Inmate Facility, where he has been held pending the outcome of his case.

Wothers will stay there until the paperwork is filed to transport him. His attorneys said while it's not definite, Wothers will likely be moved to the North Florida Evaluation Treatment Center in Gainesville.

Attorney Zachary Stoumbos said in most similar cases, it can take five years before someone is considered safe enough to release.

Jeffrey Maxwell's family did not attend the trial, but they remained close to their phones on a snowy week in northeastern Texas.

His mother, Evelyn Maxwell, said she had hoped Wothers would be forced to stay in a treatment facility for at least 10 years and thought he should be punished.

"I'd prefer if he was in there a lot longer than five years," she said.

She said that while she supports capital punishment in general, she did not want to pursue the death penalty because of Wothers' mental-health problems. The mother said she wanted him to get help.

She later added, "A lot of (veterans) do need help when they come out."

When soldiers return from Iraq and Afghanistan and are accused of killings and other crimes, the justice system has been increasingly impelled to consider the effects of combat trauma in their offenses, according to a January New York Times report.

Some judges and prosecutors have resisted the idea of creating a class of privileged offenders.

But increasingly veteran defendants are at least raising the issue of psychological war injuries. Some defense lawyers insist Iraq or Afghanistan be factored into cases, the Times reported.

Wothers and Maxwell met while they partied at Lollipops Gentleman's Club in Daytona Beach, and in the wee hours of the morning, Maxwell got a ride.

Maxwell had to catch a plane later that morning and wanted to be dropped off at his Palm Coast hotel room, where his buddy was waiting for him.

But before they got there, Wothers and Maxwell headed to the beach to shoot an M4 assault rifle, for fun, over the ocean.

Police believe Maxwell was killed between 3:30 and 4 a.m.

Maxwell borrowed Wothers' cell phone to call his hotel roommate at 3:25 a.m.

Assistant State Attorney Steve Nelson said there was no sign of a struggle on Maxwell's body, and the doctors may have used that fact as evidence of the flashback.

Investigators found Maxwell's wallet several feet from his body, Wothers' attorneys said. Maxwell worked on water towers and tanks and left behind a 4-year-old son, Tyler David Maxwell, mother Evelyn Maxwell said.

Wothers had aspirations to become a pro baseball player, his attorney said, but instead, he joined the military.

He was stationed in Kosovo from 2001 to 2003 and moved to Iraq to work in a motor unit for the Army in 2004.

During his time in Iraq, he suffered from headaches, dizziness, light-headedness, nightmares and other traits that are linked to post-traumatic stress disorder, said the assistant state attorney.

He sought help, said Wothers' attorney, and would wake up five nights a week from nightmares. He attempted to give away his belongings, saying he didn't think he would make it out alive, attorney Stoumbos said.

The military discharged Wothers, referencing the post-traumatic stress disorder.

Judge Hammond ruled that Wothers' medical files for this case will be open to the public, including veterans who may gain understanding by reading it, because the records are "a matter of great importance for people to understand."


Anonymous said...

Jeff is dead. Point blank. Why should this jerk get to live while Jeff is rotting in the ground? He's a piece of crap. I hope he's tortured for the rest of this life and the next. Your precious little 'sweet, loving' guy is gone. And so is mine! What was he doing with a gun like that anyway? Why in the world would you let a person with ptsd have a FREAKIN' GUN!!! Idiots. He deserves way more than what's coming to him.

Anonymous said...

Its a tragic story, but can't you buy guns like this legally in the US without any background checks?

Anonymous said...

I am very sorry that your friend is dead and I do not want to make light of that fact, he didn't deserve that, but Mr. Wothers obviously has issues and has served his country proudly and to be dismissed by the military? Hurtful to all those men and women who have served and fought for all of us. The military needs to take responsibility for these young folks coming home like this.

Anonymous said...

Brian Christopher Wothers is a damn fine American. The crime he committed in fact, was wrong. There is no denying that. You have no right to judge him. I would like to know if you people have p.t.s.d? I would like to know your reactions after experiencing what Americans like Mr. Wothers and myself have experienced. People like him and I, the very same people, whom in fact, protect the same freedoms you take for granted, day in and day out. Wothers, you are not alone my brother!!! You are in our thoughts and prayers everyday! keep your head up son!

SPC. Morrison,D
Bco.701st MSB 1st INF DISCOM

Anonymous said...

PTSD is a cop out. It's for weak willed and weak minded people to use as a scapegoat. I thank everybody in the U.S. military who protects our freedom but that has nothing to do with 1st degree murder. They are trained to kill threats and Jeff was never a threat to anybody. And yes, I believe that as humans we have no right to judge each other but Wothers will get amercement in this life or the next.

Unknown said...

No right to judge him, are you freaking kidding? YOu're a piece of work. Brian should've got the death penalty. Plan and simple. Ptsd. Just another excuse for vets to get away with murder

Anonymous said...

Contras, bought and paid for if not with tax dollars maybe illegal drug money obtained by our government? A war built upon lies? Yet we still wage these wars and send men and women to endure the traumas of these "creations" , PTSD is a disease not a cop out... Just like Lyme, mycoplasma or bartonella which we as veterans were exposed to if not injected with along side our vaccines. Look up these diseases and understand what they look like when untreated for *years*... Some of us are sick and just now have gotten treatment some ten or more years after deployment... Will Jeff Maxwell and Brian worthers story only lead to debate over who is right, wrong or what punishment should be given. The real problem is Americas great ability to neglect the past and make similar future mistakes. So keep being OK with war and keep receiving the same jacked up veterans returning, drunk, disgruntled and disabled. this is the aftermath of war, Jeff Maxwell is collateral damage. This is war it effects everyone......