The Army has filed murder charges against four soldiers in the Long County shooting deaths of an ex-soldier who had been part of their brigade and his girlfriend, a spokesman for Fort Stewart in Georgia said Wednesday.
Kevin Larson said Pvt. Christopher Salmon, Sgt. Anthony Peden, Pvt. Isaac Aguigui and Pfc. Michael Burnett were charged Tuesday with premeditated murder and other crimes under military law. Soldiers convicted of premeditated murder by a court-martial can be sentenced to death or life in prison.
The military action comes nearly four months after fishermen found the bodies of Michael Roark, 19, and Tiffany York, 17. The four soldiers already face charges in Long County for their alleged involvement in the two slayings. The victims, who had been shot in the head, were discovered Dec. 5 by two fishermen on Morgan Lake Road, not far from Fort Stewart, where Roark had served in the Army until being discharged just three days before he was killed.
“If we can get the death penalty, let’s go for it,” said Brett Roark, the slain ex-soldier’s father. “This was one cold-blooded execution.”
A week after the killings, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced it had arrested four soldiers who, like the younger Roark, served in the 4th Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division on Fort Stewart. They are jailed on the civilian charges. Aguigui is in the Tattnall County Jail, while
Salmon, Peden and Burnett are in the Liberty County Jail.
Attorneys for the four soldiers did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.
Because the slayings occurred outside the boundaries of Fort Stewart, but the suspects are all soldiers on active duty, both the civilian and military courts can claim jurisdiction. It’s possible to prosecute the accused soldiers simultaneously. Cases often move more quickly through the military system.
Larson said the military charges against each soldier also include conspiracy to commit murder and a federal firearms charge, which the military did not immediately explain in detail. He said military and civilian authorities “have been in discussions since the incident occurred and have cooperated with each other since the beginning.”
District Attorney Tom Durden, who’s leading the state prosecution, said the military charges won’t necessarily influence his case.
Asked if he had decided whether to see the death penalty, Durden said he hadn’t decided, but that “all options are still viable.”
No motive has been established, but after the four men were arrested, they also were investigated for possible weapons trafficking by the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Preliminary hearings for the four soldiers in state court were postponed earlier this month.
The exact relationship between the victims and suspects remains hazy. Fort Stewart officials only have said that Michael Roark and the suspects all served in the same brigade of about 4,000 soldiers. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation only has said that both victims and the four suspects all knew each other.
It’s also unclear why the Army discharged Roark on Dec. 2. His service record shows he enlisted in March 2010 and trained as a cavalry scout before being assigned to Fort Stewart earlier this year. The Army Human Resources Command only said that Roark’s discharge was not dishonorable.
Roark’s father said his son arrived on Fort Stewart last year as an eager private who was disappointed he didn’t get to deploy to Iraq with the 4th Brigade, which returned from a year-long tour last summer.
A few months later, the young soldier complained of disagreements with superiors and told his father he wanted to leave the Army. Brett Roark said his son visited him the weekend before he was killed and didn’t act distressed or give any sense he was in danger.
Courier correspondent Mike Riddle contributed to this story.