Docs: Lawrenceville Soldier was schizophrenic at time of slaying

Pfc. David Lawrence
Pfc. David Lawrence

DENVER (AP) - A Lawrenceville-born soldier charged with killing a captured Taliban member in Afghanistan was suffering from schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder at the time and didn't realize his actions were wrong, Army doctors said.

Despite the diagnosis, Pfc. David Lawrence faces a court-martial on a charge of premeditated murder, the Army said Tuesday.

Army officials declined to discuss the diagnosis but said in a written statement that prosecutors believe they can proceed with a court-martial and that Lawrence can participate in his defense.

Lawrence is charged with premeditated murder in the Oct. 17 death of the prisoner, who prosecutors say was asleep in a jail cell at a U.S. outpost in when he was shot. If convicted, Lawrence could face execution or life in prison.

He is assigned to the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colo.

The original charge sheet outlining the case against Lawrence accused him of killing a prisoner identified as Mohebullah. A revised charge sheet identifies the victim only as "a male of apparent Afghan descent."

James Culp, Lawrence's civilian attorney, said he believes Mohebullah may have been arrested in 2007, held at Guantanamo Bay and released. Culp said the Army may have dropped Mohebullah's name because of the potential embarrassment over the government releasing a prisoner who then resurfaced as a Taliban member.

Fort Carson officials said the identification was changed "because of the transient nature of Afghan names." They said "Mullah Mohebullah" was probably one of his names but they had no information on whether he had been at Guantanamo.

A two-member Army Sanity Board interviewed Lawrence for 7 ½ hours over three days and reviewed his medical records and other documents before concluding in a Jan. 20 report that Lawrence had schizophrenia at PTSD at the time of the shooting.

The board said Lawrence had "a severe mental disease or defect" and was "unable to appreciate the nature and quality or wrongfulness of his conduct at the time of the alleged criminal misconduct."

The board said Lawrence is capable of understanding the procedure against him and of helping his lawyer.

Culp said it is unprecedented for the Army to press ahead with a court-martial after its own experts ruled that the defendant was mentally ill and unable to tell right from wrong at the time of the alleged crime.

"It doesn't seem very fair to drag David and his family through the court-martial," Culp said.

Brett Lawrence said his son is back at Fort Carson and is living in a barracks under guard after spending time in two mental health facilities.

Brett Lawrence said his son became suicidal in December after an Army psychiatrist stopped giving him an anti-psychotic drug in December because, the father said, the doctor didn't believe his son was suffering from schizophrenia.

"I couldn't believe it. I was very shocked," Brett Lawrence said.

He said his son's lawyer arranged for a civilian psychiatrist to examine the soldier at the family's expense, and that his son is now back on the medication.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)