US prosecutor seeks death penalty for 3 soldiers

Pvt Isaac Aguigui, Pvt Christopher Salmon and Sgt Anthony Peden are each charged with 13 counts including malice murder, felony murder.

Ludowici: Prosecutors will seek the death penalty against three Army soldiers accused of killing a former serviceman and his girlfriend to protect an anti-government militia group, officials said on Thursday during tense court hearings in which one victim`s stepfather was tackled and handcuffed as he tried to rush the defence table.

Pvt Isaac Aguigui, Pvt Christopher Salmon and Sgt Anthony Peden -- all active-duty soldiers stationed at Fort Stewart -- are each charged with 13 counts including malice murder, felony murder and illegal gang activity in the December 04 slayings.

The case took a stunning turn at an earlier hearing on Monday when prosecutors told a Superior Court judge the accused soldiers belonged to an anti-government militia operating within the US military that had stockpiled at least USD 87,000 worth of guns and bomb components. They said the group had a range of plans -- from bombing a park fountain in nearby Savannah to poisoning apple crops in the state of Washington -- and its ultimate goal was to overthrow the US government and assassinate the President. However, President Barack Obama was not mentioned by name as their target.

The victims, former soldier Michael Roark and his 17-year-old girlfriend, Tiffany York, were shot in the head in the woods near Fort Stewart in the US state of Georgia. Fishermen found their bodies the day after they were killed.

"I want them gone. I want all of these individuals to disappear," said Nicholas Lee York, the slain girl`s older brother, who applauded the decision to seek death for the soldiers. "They took something irreplaceable from me."

District Attorney Tom Durden cites domestic terrorism as an aggravating factor that warrants the death penalty. However, all charges against the soldiers relate directly to the killings. No charges have been filed in state or federal court accusing the three suspects of terrorist plots or acts.

Because they now face capital charges, all three soldiers will need to have new attorneys appointed with death penalty experience. They won`t be arraigned or asked to enter pleas until that happens.

"At this point, there has been no evidence presented to prove anything," said Keith Higgins, an attorney who represented Aguigui in court today. "The fact that certain statements are being made does not necessarily mean these allegations are true."

Salmon`s wife, Heather Salmon, has also been charged with murder and other counts. She did not appear in court on Thursday and Durden said he will not seek the death penalty for her.