updated 9/22/2009 6:13:54 PM ET 2009-09-22T22:13:54

A U.S. soldier has been charged with murder in the slaying of a civilian contractor on an American base in Iraq, the military said Tuesday.

Spc. Beyshee Velez of Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, was charged Monday in the Sept. 13 shooting death of a contractor who worked for Houston-based KBR at Camp Speicher in the city of Tikrit, a military statement said.

The 31-year-old suspect faces dishonorable discharge and a maximum sentence of life in prison if found guilty. He is being held in Hawaii pending the outcome of the trial. He was also charged with assault and fleeing arrest.

Velez is assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.

The military statement gave no other details and said the investigation into the shooting was ongoing.

The slain KBR employee, 27-year-old Lucas Vinson, was from Leesville, Louisiana.

Authorities 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, according to his mother.

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 on the base with his father and uncle.

KBR is the primary support contractor in Iraq, providing troops with essential services, including housing, meals, mail delivery and laundry.

The U.S. military makes wide use of contractors in Iraq for security, technical support and supply functions.

According to an AP count, 1,396 civilian employees of U.S. government contractors have been killed in Iraq since the war began in March 2003.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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