An Army medic accused of fatally shooting a fellow soldier during a night of heavy drinking in Iraq pleaded guilty Tuesday to unpremeditated murder and other charges.
Spc. Chris Rolan, 23, had initially been charged with premeditated murder in the Nov. 16, 2005, death of Pvt. Dylan Paytas, 20, while the two were serving with Fort Benning’s 3rd Infantry Brigade in Iraq.
Rolan’s court-martial had been set to begin Tuesday morning. Instead, he accepted an agreement to plead guilty to unpremeditated murder, violating a general order against drinking in Iraq, communicating a threat and reckless endangerment.
Officials said he could face life in prison when he is sentenced.
In addition to the charges involving Paytas, Rolan had been charged with assaulting and threatening to kill a 25-year-old soldier from Texas during an earlier drinking episode.
Rolan, who is from Albuquerque, also had been accused of shooting at his roommate, Pvt. Mastermichael Ramsey of Milwaukee, on the night Paytas was killed, but the Army dropped that charge without explanation.
Ramsey had delivered the only eyewitness testimony at Rolan’s Article 32 hearing last May.
He testified that he, Rolan and Paytas listened to music, played video games and swilled gin and whiskey on the night of Nov. 15-16, 2005, in violation of Army regulations.
Paytas, of Freedom, Pa., provoked Rolan, and Rolan suggested a wrestling match, Ramsey testified. He said Paytas pinned Rolan and began taunting him. Rolan said, “I’m not going to have Paytas disrespect me,” then shot him, Ramsey testified.
Rolan gave a different version in court Tuesday when prompted by the judge to describe what happened.
Rolan said that Paytas and Ramsey arrived at his room with bottles of whiskey and gin and that at some point, he blacked out.
When he awoke, he said, “Pvt. Paytas was in my face and Pvt. Ramsey was holding him back. I blacked out again and the next thing I remember is firing.”
Rolan said he went to a tactical operations center, still clutching his Beretta pistol, surrendered the gun and turned himself in. Records indicate he may have fired as many as six times, based on shell casings found at the scene. At least three bullets hit Paytas.
Ramsey, meanwhile, has serious legal problems of his own. After leaving the Army he and three others were charged with murdering a cab driver in Columbus, Ga., near Fort Benning, during a robbery.