Schofield soldier is charged with murder in death of American contractor in Iraq


POSTED: Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A 31-year-old Schofield Barracks soldier, who was on his third Iraqi tour, has been charged in the shooting death of an American civilian contractor on a U.S. base in Iraq.

Spc. Beyshee O. Velez, 31, is being held at the brig at Ford Island on two counts of murder, three counts of assault and one count of fleeing apprehension. He was charged on Monday.

He is accused of killing Lucas Vinson, 27, of Leesville, La., Sept. 13 at Contingency Operating Base Speicher near Tikrit, Iraq.

The Associated Press reported that the military told Vinson's family that he was shot three times after offering a ride to an American soldier who flagged down his vehicle on the base.

The Army did not provide details of the shooting except to say that Velez pointed his loaded M-4 carbine at Vinson and shot him.

Maj. Derrick Cheng, an Army spokesman, said that although Velez is charged with two counts of murder, he can be convicted of only one of the two murder specifications.

;”;The events leading up to and during the alleged shooting remain under investigation, so the two specifications provide some latitude to account for all the evidence,”; Cheng said in an e-mail.

An investigating officer will review all evidence presented at an Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a preliminary hearing, and make recommendations on the disposition of the charges.

If Velez is convicted of murder at a court-martial, he could face a maximum sentence of life in prison and a dishonorable discharge.

Assault with a deadly weapon carries a maximum sentence of dishonorable discharge and eight years' confinement. Fleeing apprehension carries a maximum sentence of a bad-conduct discharge and one year of confinement.

Velez is assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team.

He enlisted in the Army 10 years ago and was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division in 2005. He was on his third deployment to Iraq, and this was his second deployment with the division's 3rd Brigade.

Vinson was employed by Houston-based KBR, the primary contractor in Iraq, supporting troops with services including housing, meals, mail delivery and laundry.

The Associated Press reported that Vinson had worked in Iraq for five years before returning to Louisiana for a time. He returned to Iraq last year with KBR. He worked at Speicher in northern Iraq, more than 105 miles north of Baghdad, with his father and uncle.

This is the second shooting case involving a 3rd Brigade soldier.

In July, Sgt. Miguel A. Vegaquinones, 33, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the shooting death of Pfc. Sean McCune, 20, in Samarra on Jan 11. He was sentenced to three years in prison at his court-martial in Iraq.

The 3rd Bronco Brigade is completing a year's tour in Iraq and will be home next month. Col. Walter Piatt is scheduled to transfer duties of the 3rd Brigade to the 4th Brigade Combat Team from the 1st Infantry Division, based at Fort Riley, Kan., on Oct. 8.