We've heard about "collateral damage" in the first Gulf War and since -- Iraqi citizens hit by bombs-gone-astray (or so they say), children dying from lack of health care, whole areas exposed to unacceptable levels of radiation thanks to depleted uranium.
We've also heard of the effect of the war on our soldiers who have returned home with "Gulf War syndrome," which can't be explained merely by post-traumatic stress disorder. Exposure to toxins of all kinds have seriously hurt our soldiers who loyally served in the first Gulf War and, more often than not, faced bureaucratic barriers to diagnosis and treatment upon returning home. Their physical and mental needs have rarely been fully met by a country which seems to consider them disposable soldiers.
To these tragic rolls must be added two more names: Louis Jones, Jr., 53, and Tracie McBride, 19.
For 22 years, Jones served his country in the U.S. Army, and was awarded a number of medals for service. Then he was sent to the Gulf in 1991.
When he returned, Jones was a changed man; he was irritable and hostile -- a disturbing change from a career soldier with no criminal record. He retired from the military in 1993. His path crossed McBride's in 1995.
Tracie McBride was a young private in the U.S. military, serving at the base in San Angelo, Texas. Jones kidnapped her, raped her, and killed her on Feb. 18, 1995. Two weeks later, Jones confessed to the brutal crime. He was sentenced to death and is scheduled to be executed by the federal government next Tuesday, 18 March 2003, at 7:00 a.m.
What made this formerly upstanding veteran commit such a heinous act?
In the Gulf War, Jones and his Army unit were repeatedly exposed to the fallout of the U.S. attacks on Iraqi weapon storage sites. Sarin gas and other nerve toxins have irreparably damaged his brain, according to Dr. Robert Haley, an expert on epidemiology and the neurophysiologic effects of the Gulf War on veterans. Dr. Haley attributes Jones' shocking personality changes to this exposure coupled with Louis Jones' history of childhood abuse.
At the time Louis Jones was sentenced to death, Haley's studies were barely underway; the link between the Gulf War and physical damage to the brain had not been fully explored. No jury was made aware of that vital link.
Until 1996, the U.S. government refused to admit that U.S. soldiers had been exposed to sarin gas in the Gulf War; finally, it was revealed that nearly 100,000 soldiers were exposed to sarin gas. Blood tests on Jones have since confirmed that he has a genetic condition which makes his body chemistry more vulnerable to sarin poisoning than the average person.
Since the trial, Jones has been a model prisoner and has expressed remorse. Based on the newly discovered medical link that helped explain his horrific crime, Jones' lawyers filed an appeal in 1909 which was rejected by the Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote.
Jones has filed a request for clemency with President Bush, although there's no expectation that the "hanging president" will change his sentence to life without parole. Pro-death penalty Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican from Texas, has asked for a medical scan of Jones' brain before Bush passes judgment.
Barring a major change in Bush's brain chemistry, there is little chance that Louis Jones will not die on Tuesday morning, becoming one of the latest victims of the Gulf War's collateral damage. As we prepare to mount a new Gulf War, which may expose even more American soldiers to toxic conditions in Iraq, how many more Louis Jones will we create and then kill? How many innocents such as Tracie McBride will die, years from now, as a result of the Bush administration's desire to press for war?
Candlelight Vigils and Memorial Service
The Inland Empire chapters of Death Penalty Focus and California People of Faith Working Against the Death Penalty have scheduled candlelight vigils on the night of Monday, 17 May 2003, in Riverside and Temecula from 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. We will be remembering the victims of violence, including Tracie McBride and Louis Jones Jr., as well as those who will be killed during and after Mr. Bush's upcoming war. People of any (or no) faith are welcome to attend.
Those attending the Riverside vigil will gather on the steps of the Court of Appeals, across the street from St. Frances de Sales at 7:00 p.m. For more information, call (909) 788-4662.
The Temecula vigil will be held at St. Catherine of Alexandria church, 41875 "C" Street. A map is here. For more information, contact Kynn Bartlett, email@example.com, (909) 202-9872.
On Tuesday, 18 March 2003, we will gather for a public memorial service for the victims at the historic Riverside Courthouse, 4050 Main Street, in downtown Riverside from noon to 1:00. For more information, call (909) 788-4662.
For more on this case, see:
- Stop the Execution of Louis Jones!, Death Penalty Focus
- Should Louis Jones die?, MSNBC/Newsweek
- Opposing the Louis Jones Death Warrant, DaveCoop.com
- Decorated Gulf War Vet on Death Row Seeks Clemency, TalkLeft