A Schofield Barracks soldier pleaded guilty this week in military court to murdering a civilian contractor in Iraq and was sentenced to 26 years in prison, officials said yesterday.
Spc. Beyshee O. Velez, 32, a medic and three-time Iraq war veteran, was days away from leaving the country when he shot contractor Lucas "Trent" Vinson on Sept. 13, 2009, at Contingency Operating Base Speicher in northern Iraq.
Vinson, 27, worked for the Houston-based company KBR at COB Speicher with his father, Myron "Bugsy" Vinson, and an uncle. KBR provided troops with services such as housing, meals, mail delivery and laundry.
As part of a plea deal, Velez, of Cleveland, was found guilty of the murder of Vinson "by recklessly pointing his loaded M-4 carbine at Mr. Vinson, who died when the weapon discharged," the 25th Infantry Division said.
The agreement required a sentence not in excess of 28 years in prison, officials said.
Velez, who was with the 3rd Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment, also was found guilty of assaulting three other contractors by pointing a loaded weapon at them, and of fleeing apprehension by authorities, the Army said.
Officials said the shooting occurred in a sport utility vehicle on base. Witnesses at a previous hearing testified that Velez then forced a driver out of a 15-passenger van that belonged to KBR and drove erratically at high speed around the sprawling base before getting stuck in a ditch.
The presiding military judge, Lt. Col. Kwasi L. Hawks, also sentenced Velez to a reduction to the lowest enlisted grade, total forfeitures of pay and a dishonorable discharge, the Army said in a news release.
The Army said Velez is confined at the Naval Brig at Ford Island but will be turned over to the Army Corrections Command. A trial was held Tuesday and Wednesday at Wheeler Army Airfield, with sentencing Wednesday, the Army said.
Velez’s civilian attorney, Philip D. Cave, said in February 2010 that an Army mental fitness board found the soldier likely experienced a "short psychotic episode."
However, an Army mental health board found Velez fit to stand trial, officials previously said.
The shooting occurred at about 8:30 a.m., and a standoff with Velez lasted until about 8 p.m. as he blared the radio, chain-smoked cigarettes and put his M-4 rifle to his head in the van, witnesses and Army officials said.
Col. Thomas Wheatley, a chaplain who was at the scene, had said his gut feeling was that Velez was going to kill himself.
"He said, ‘I’m a medic, I know how to do it,’" Wheatley had testified.
A friend of Velez, Spc. Leonel Garciapagan, talked to Velez and was finally able to remove the soldier’s rifle. Garciapagan testified in February that Velez was confused and was not aware of the shooting.
"He wasn’t aware of nothing," Garciapagan said. "When he talked to me, I figured out his mind wasn’t right."
Garciapagan said Velez started acting strangely several days before the shooting, thinking there were wanted posters with his face and name around the base.