THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Marine’s killer used drugs, report suggests

Associated Press / January 1, 2011

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INDIANAPOLIS — An Afghan security contractor convicted in a Marine’s fatal shooting was a frequent drug user who may have smoked opium or hashish hours before the killing in one of Afghanistan’s top opium-producing regions, a US military investigation suggests.

The report, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, hints that drug use was rampant among the private security guards spotted by Lance Corporal Joshua Birchfield’s unit about an hour before he was shot in Afghanistan’s Farah Province on Feb. 19.

The US Marine Corps previously concluded Birchfield died in the line of duty when he was shot by a local contractor as a group of Marines was on foot patrol. The US Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which investigates noncombat deaths of Navy personnel, looked into whether a crime was committed and who committed it.

The agency’s report states that an Afghan court convicted Birchfield’s assailant in July and sentenced him to 15 years in prison. The report says the person, whose name is redacted, was working security for a construction company in Afghanistan’s Farah Province when he opened fire upon spotting a group of men with guns who turned out to be Marines.

Birchfield, a 24-year-old from Westville, Ind., was struck once in the head and died before a medical helicopter arrived.

The report calls Birchfield a victim of negligent homicide. In a statement, the NCIS says his death was “senseless and tragic.’’ The report does not say what exactly the assailant was convicted of.

Although the report indicates drug use may have been a factor, saliva and hair samples taken from the man weren’t tested for drugs. The NCIS said Afghan prosecutors decided those tests weren’t needed because the man confessed to Birchfield’s killing.

A suspected bag of opium found at the encampment where the assailant and other security contractors were keeping watch also was never tested, the agency said.

“Ultimately, the nature of the substance seized was not relevant to the conviction obtained in the homicide case,’’ the NCIS said.

Birchfield’s mother, Shelley Hacker, said she and other relatives received the 220-page report in early December but did not plan to read the entire document until early January because the contents will be upsetting.

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