Pa. soldier got shot to avoid return to Iraq, police say

Combat veteran is held in Philadelphia, served seven months in war zone

December 17, 2004|By David Zucchino | David Zucchino,LOS ANGELES TIMES

PHILADELPHIA - A U.S. Army combat veteran on leave from a unit headed back to Iraq arranged for a friend to shoot him in the leg in an attempt to avoid returning to the war zone, Philadelphia police said yesterday.

Spc. Marquise Roberts, 23, told police that he had been shot Tuesday afternoon as he walked past two men who were arguing on a north Philadelphia street.

But police said their investigation found that Roberts really was shot once in the leg by a friend as part of a scheme to avoid returning to Iraq.

Roberts, who served seven months in Iraq during the U.S. invasion in 2003, was due to report back to Fort Stewart, Ga., on Wednesday, police said.

He is a supply specialist with the 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized), according to commanders at Fort Stewart.

They said Roberts, who has been in the army since 2001, was on two-week holiday leave to his home in Philadelphia.

The division, which helped topple the Saddam Hussein regime in Baghdad in April 2003, has been ordered to begin heading back to Iraq next month. Roberts returned from Iraq in midsummer.

Wife's cousin

Philadelphia Police Inspector William Colarulo said Roberts was shot by his wife's cousin, Roland Fuller, 28, in north Philadelphia on Tuesday afternoon.

Officials at a nearby hospital called police after Roberts sought medical treatment - standard policy for gunshot wounds, Colarulo said.

Roberts told police that he heard a gunshot as he walked past a street dispute and then realized he had been shot in the leg.

But Fuller told detectives that Roberts had been shot during an attempted robbery, Colarulo said.

Detectives who searched the scene where Roberts said he was shot found no bullet casings, blood or witnesses who recalled seeing or hearing gunshots.

"The investigation determined that he [Roberts] didn't want to go back to Iraq and staged the shooting to avoid having to return," Colarulo said.

Lt. James Clark, who directed the investigation, said Roberts "said he had done seven months there and he didn't want to go back.

"He wanted to stay with his family."

Police said Roberts was treated for the wound and released into police custody Wednesday.

Roberts and Fuller were charged with conspiracy, recklessly endangering another person and filing a false police report. Fuller also was charged with aggravated assault and weapons offenses.

Roberts was shot with a handgun, according to police, who said the gun was not the soldier's military weapon.

Pentagon officials said they could recall no instance in which a soldier on leave from Iraq or Afghanistan was accused of deliberately harming himself or herself in order to avoid returning to duty.

Of the 136,000 soldiers and Department of Army civilians who took home leaves as of early November, they said, only one soldier has been classified as AWOL. Under the Rest and Recuperation Leave Program, soldiers get two weeks at home midway through their deployment.

More than 5,000 soldiers have been charged with desertion from bases in the United States and overseas since the invasion of Iraq in early 2003, according to Pentagon statistics.

But the number of desertions for the fiscal year ending in September was half the number for the fiscal year ending the month of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks - before troops were sent to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The military defines desertion as more than 30 consecutive days absent without leave.

Resisting return

Two soldiers have received publicity for resisting their return to duty in Iraq while on home leave.

Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejia, 28, a National Guardsman from Florida, refused to return to Iraq after completing home leave in October 2003. He asked to be declared a conscientious objector.

Earlier this month, Spc. David Qualls filed a lawsuit challenging the Army's authority to extend his service and threatened not to return to Iraq while on home leave in Arkansas. A federal judge denied Qualls' request to remain in the United States until his case was heard, and his lawyer said he would return to Iraq.

More than 800 former soldiers have failed to comply with orders to get back in uniform and report for duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, the Army reported in October.

Those ex-soldiers, called back to duty under the military's Individual Ready Reserve program, were not charged with desertion. Most had requested delays or exemptions for school, medical emergencies or family hardships.

In Roberts' case, his return to duty is delayed indefinitely. He was in custody last night under $50,000 bail while awaiting a court hearing, police said.

Military officials said Roberts also could face punishment under the military justice system.

They said the military normally waits until civilian courts have ruled before deciding whether to charge soldiers in military court.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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