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Sergeant gets life without parole for murder conviction

Sunday, June 12, 2005

FORT RILEY, Kan. --- An Army sergeant convicted of shooting two fellow soldiers to death last year will serve life in prison with no chance of parole, a military jury decided Saturday.

Sgt. Aaron Stanley, 23, of Bismarck, N.D., was sentenced a day after his conviction by the same eight jurors on two counts of premeditated murder. They deliberated about six hours over his sentence -- twice as long as they did over his guilt.

He will serve his sentence at Fort Leavenworth's disciplinary barracks for the deaths of Staff Sgt. Matthew Werner, 30, of Oxnard, Calif., and Spc. Christopher D. Hymer, 23, of Nevada, Mo., in September at Stanley's farmhouse in Clay Center, about 30 miles west of Fort Riley.

"These were extraordinarily violent and senseless murders," Maj. John Hamner, lead prosecutor, told the panel.

Stanley wiped a few tears from his eyes but otherwise was composed when the jury announced its sentencing decision.

"It's OK," he told a half-dozen family members who were seated behind him.

He patted them on their backs, adding, "It's not the end of the world. Relax."

But family members gasped when the sentence was announced. All were either shaking or crying afterward.

But when he heard the sentence, Hymer's father, David, said, "All right!"

"I feel justice is here," he said later. "It makes me put a close to this."

After the verdict Friday, jurors heard testimony from victims' family members and from family and friends of Stanley.

Stanley read an apology he had written on a piece of notebook paper.

"I'm so sorry," he said to the victims' families. "I hope that you will find it in your hearts to forgive me and I hope that this brings peace."

Supporters praised Stanley's performance as a soldier and his character as a young boy growing up in Arizona. But Saturday, Hamner told the panel it shouldn't be swayed by those pleas.

"On 13 September, he was the antitheses of everything good that was said about him yesterday," he said.

But one of Stanley's defense attorneys, Capt. Tom Hurley, argued that Stanley had accepted his guilt for the other charges and acknowledged the entire event was a tragedy.

The jurors found Stanley not guilty on a final charge of conspiracy to commit murder.

capable of becoming an Army Ranger, and a good example for other soldiers.

Friday, Stanley read an apology he had written on a piece of notebook paper.

"I'm so sorry," he said to the victims' families. "I hope that you will find it in your hearts to forgive me and I hope that this brings peace."

He then went on to apologize to the Army and to the members of his unit.

"I brought discredit to this uniform by my actions. My mistakes are my own," he said before he began sobbing so heavily that his defense attorneys had to finish reading the statement.

Stanley also started crying earlier when Caleigh Nichols, Hymer's sister, told jurors that her brother was a good father to his 5-year-old daughter.

"They liked to spend time together," Nichols said. "That's what daddies do."

Werner's wife, Kristen, said their 3-year-old son asks about his father every day.

"His father is his angel in heaven, is what we say," she testified.

During his court-martial, Stanley argued he acted in self-defense, but prosecutors said he shot the two men to protect a drug trafficking operation, believing the victims to be informants for Fort Riley police.

Stanley and another soldier, Sgt. Eric Colvin, 23, of Papillion, Neb., had acknowledged manufacturing methamphetamines and growing marijuana at Stanley's remote farmhouse.

Stanley pleaded guilty at the start of his court martial to drug use, drug possession, being absent without leave and adultery. He faces up to 37 years in prison on those charges.

The jurors found Stanley not guilty on a final charge of conspiracy to commit murder.

The jury deliberated less than three hours Friday before finding him guilty of murder. As the verdict was read, Stanley stood and wiped tears from his eyes. Sitting behind him in the first row of spectator seating, his mother shook, and other family members were visibly upset.

All four soldiers were part of the 1st Battalion of the 41st Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 1st Armored Division based at Fort Riley. Both Stanley and Colvin were with Bravo Company and had served in Iraq.

During closing arguments, Capt. Christy Schverak, one of the Army prosecutors, said Stanley's claim of self-defense was unsubstantiated, noting Stanley left his duties at the Army post to meet with the two soldiers he killed.

"He left a place of safety to go to a mutual fight," she said.

Post officials haven't determined whether Colvin also will face a court martial, nor have they disclosed details of his plea agreement.

"He calls it justice," Robbins said, referring to Colvin. "We call it bought and paid for by the government."


On the Net:

Fort Riley: http://www.riley.army.mil


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