Soldier gets 10 years in slaying of fellow veteran

/ Source: The Associated Press

A soldier who pleaded guilty in the shooting death of a fellow Iraq veteran apologized to the victim's family in court Monday before being sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Kenneth Eastridge, 24, pleaded guilty in July to being an accessory to murder in the death of Kevin Shields. Shields' family said he had just learned his wife was pregnant and had gone to a nightclub to celebrate when he was killed Dec. 1, his birthday. While there, he met up with Eastridge and Louis Bressler, two soldiers he knew from Iraq.

Prosecutors said Bressler killed Shields after the two of them fought in a park and Eastridge later helped get rid of evidence.

"I don't have the right to ask for forgiveness, but I just hope that everybody knows someday that I really am sorry," Eastridge said, visibly shaking as he read his statement.

"I believe he loved his family," said Eastridge, who had a tattoo on one arm of a double lightning bolt, a neo-Nazi symbol. "I really didn't know him that well, but he spoke a lot about his wife and his kids .... I had no idea that Kevin was going to be killed."

'Doesn't make the pain go away'
Outside the courtroom, Shields' mother, Debra Shields of Loves Park, Ill., held her son's dog tags and tearfully said it was the first time any of the three defendants had shown any remorse.

"It doesn't make the pain go away," she said.

One of the other defendants, Bruce Bastien Jr., was sentenced in September to 60 years in prison. He pleaded guilty to being an accessory to murder in Shields' death and conspiring to commit murder in the August 2007 death of another soldier, Robert James.

Bressler, the alleged triggerman in Shields' death, is charged with first-degree murder. Jury selection in his trial started Monday, and Eastridge has agreed to testify against him.

Bressler also faces charges of first-degree murder in James' slaying, where he is also accused of being the triggerman. That trial is scheduled to start Dec. 1.

Eastridge is not facing charges in James' death. Eastridge was deployed in Iraq at that time, but investigators said he knew about it and told authorities only after he had been arrested in Shields' slaying.

Bressler, Eastridge and Shields served together in Iraq. Bastien was a soldier at Fort Carson with them.

Had to help a friend
Eastridge's attorney, Sheilagh McAteer, said during the sentencing hearing that he was the least culpable of the defendants. She said Eastridge didn't actually participate in the attack but watched from the backseat of a car and helped get rid of evidence because he felt he had to help a friend.

McAteer said that during two tours in Iraq, Eastridge manned a machine gun on top of a Humvee and saw "more battles and bloodshed as a 19-year-old than most will ever see in a lifetime."

She said he suffered a serious head injury when a roadside bomb struck his Humvee during his first tour, tossing him 30 to 60 feet. She said a pre-sentence report found Eastridge suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and she blamed the military for discharging him without medical help.

El Paso County District Judge Theresa Cisneros and Shields' family both rejected that argument.

"He needs to take responsibility," Debra Shields said. "He's a grown man. He can ask for help."

Eastridge, Bastien and Bressler are three of at least five soldiers deployed to Iraq with the 4th Brigade Combat Team who have been accused in slayings in the past 15 months. A sixth faces attempted murder charges.

Army commanders said they have formed a task force to identify any commonalities in the slayings allegedly committed by the soldiers.