Vet who claimed Iraqi gas caused brain damage is executed

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. -- A Gulf War veteran who raped and killed a female soldier was put to death by injection Tuesday after failing to win clemency with his claim that exposure to Iraqi nerve gas led to his crime.

In a statement read by his attorney, Louis Jones Jr. said he accepted full responsibility for the "pain, anguish and the suffering" he caused the private's family.

Jones was executed at the U.S. Penitentiary near Terre Haute after President Bush and the U.S. Supreme Court refused his two final requests that they intervene.

Jones, who had no previous criminal record, admitted he kidnapped 19-year-old Pvt. Tracie Joy McBride from an Air Force base in Texas, raped her and beat her to death with a tire iron.

His attorneys said exposure to the gas caused severe brain damage that led him to kill. The issue was not raised at Jones' trial because he became aware of the exposure only afterward.

Jones was the third person -- after Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and drug kingpin Juan Garza -- put to death by the federal government since it resumed executions in 2001 after a 38-year suspension.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tanya Pierce, who prosecuted Jones and witnessed the execution, said she expects other veterans will copy Jones' claims of Gulf War syndrome.

"Although I am not trying to minimize any illnesses people may have had, it is an insult to thousands and thousand of people who went over there, who did their patriotic duty and came back as law-abiding citizens," Pierce said.

"For anybody to take this situation that we're in right now and to use that to try to help a murderer and a rapist, it is pretty despicable in my mind," Pierce said.

In Jones' final moments, he looked toward the room where the witnesses he had selected were watching and mouthed the words "I love you." He did not look toward the room where McBride's family watched.

Asked if he had a last statement, Jones said: "Although the Lord hath chastised me forth, he hath not given me over unto death."

During his trial, defense experts testified Jones suffered brain damage from abuse as a child and post-traumatic stress from his combat experience. Prosecution experts disputed those claims.

After his conviction, the Pentagon informed Jones and about 130,000 other soldiers that they might have been exposed to low levels of Iraqi nerve gas in March 1991.

Jones' attorneys said that exposure caused severe, personality-altering brain damage that led Jones to kill.

Steve Robinson, executive director of the National Gulf War Resource Center in Silver Spring, Md., said growing scientific evidence shows exposure to low-levels of sarin gas could cause irreversible brain damage.

Robinson had no comment on the merits of Jones' case, but said: "If insanity is an accepted and often used defense, then shouldn't a documented brain injury be considered by the courts?"

Despite the claims of brain damage, Jones' attorney, Timothy Floyd, said there would be no autopsy to examine Jones' brain.

"There are doctors who would like to do that, but it was Sergeant Jones' request not to," Floyd said.

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