Attorney: Schofield soldier accused of Iraq shooting had psychotic episode
By William Cole
Advertiser Staff Writer
WHEELER ARMY AIRFIELD — The attorney for a Schofield Barracks soldier accused of shooting to death a civilian contractor in Iraq said today that an Army mental fitness board found that the soldier likely experienced a short psychotic episode.
Spc. Beyshee O. Velez, 31, a three-time Iraq war veteran, was days away from leaving the country when he allegedly shot to death civilian contractor Lucas “Trent” Vinson on Sept. 13, 2009, at Contingency Operating Base Speicher in Northern Iraq.
Vinson, 27, worked for Houston-based KBR at COB Speicher with his father, Myron “Bugsy” Vinson and an uncle. KBR provides troops with essential services, including housing, meals, mail delivery and laundry.
Velez is charged with two counts of murder, three counts of assault and one count of fleeing apprehension.
An Article 32 hearing — similar to a civilian grand jury hearing — began today at Wheeler.
Velez’ civilian attorney, Philip D. Cave, said he plans to challenge the Army mental health board’s findings.
The board found Velez fit to stand trial, the Army said.
Cave said he plans to request government funding to hire an expert consultant.
He said the shooting occurred in a SUV. Witnesses testified today that Velez then seized a 15-passenger van and drove erratically at high speed before hitting a dirt-filled barrier.
A stand-off with Velez lasted about 12 hours, the Army said.
Air Force Senior Airman Jesus Antancio, who was part of a security force, said Velez was sitting in the van pointing a weapon at his own head.
A friend of Velez, Spc. Leonel Garciapagan, who talked to Velez and was able to remove the soldier’s rifle, said Velez was confused and was not aware of the shooting.
“He wasn’t aware of nothing,” Garciapagan said today.
“When he talked to me, I figured out his mind wasn’t right,” Garciapagan said.
Velez’ main concern was about a dream he had, Garciapagan said.
“He confused what really happened with his dream,” Garciapagan said. “He was talking about his dream.”
Garciapagan said Velez started acting strangely several days before the shooting, thinking there were wanted posters with his face and name around the base.
Garciapagan said he spent some time with Velez, but then was busy the next few days before the shooting.
“I tried to explain to him, ‘Don’t worry about it,’” Garciapagan said.
He said everyone was “stressed” at the time with last-minute preparations to leave Iraq.
“Everyone was in the mood of going back home,” Garciapagan said.
He described Velez as a “nice person. Real friendly. Disciplined,” but not aggressive by nature.
An investigating officer will make a recommendation as to what charges — if any — Velez will face at court-martial.
A murder conviction carries a maximum sentence of life behind bars and a dishonorable discharge.
Vinson’s family previously told the Associated Press that Vinson was shot three times after offering a ride to an American soldier who flagged down Vinson’s vehicle on the base.