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Soldier charged with murder writes of war's impact

11:07 AM, Nov 13, 2012   |    comments
Dwight L. Smith, 24, has been charged with kidnapping, rape and murder in the death of a 65-year-old Wilmington, Del., woman.(Photo: (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal)
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WILMINGTON, Del. -- A soldier charged with kidnapping, raping and murdering a local woman last year is now claiming in a letter that he killed innocent men, women and children overseas and that his combat service got him "addicted to killing people."

The undated letter from Dwight L. Smith Jr. to his father was published by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof in conjunction with a lengthy column Sunday arguing that the military needs to do a better job caring for soldiers scarred by war.

Smith, 25, is accused of the Dec. 19, 2011, kidnapping, rape and murder of 65-year-old Marsha Lee and could face a possible death sentence if convicted.

On Monday, Smith's defense attorney Bradley V. Manning said he was aware of the letter's contents but had not seen it before Sunday's publication.

"We are still looking into what he said in the letter and finding people who can corroborate or contradict what he wrote," said Manning.

Smith served in Iraq from 2007 to 2008 and in Afghanistan from May 2010 to April 2011, when he was wounded in a mortar attack. Manning, however, declined to say Monday if Smith's history of traumatic brain injury in combat or his diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder would play a role in the legal strategy.

Prosecutor Steve Wood said Monday that he had read the letter but declined further comment.

The letter is the first and most detailed public account from Smith since his arrest and could be a preview of his legal defense.

In the letter, Smith writes, "I am going to be honest with you dad. I have killed a lot of men and women and children. Some that didn't even do anything for me to kill them. Also some that begged for mercy. I have a problem. I think I got addicted to killing people.

"I could kill someone, go to sleep and forget that it ever happened," Smith writes.

"It got normal for me to be that way. I never wanted to be this way. I just took my job way to (sic) serious. I took things to the extreme. Anyone can tell you that I changed. It is like being a completely different person," he adds.

Smith also cites mental health difficulties in the letter and states that while in solitary confinement in a Delaware prison he has been having flashbacks, hearing voices and "seeing things in my cell."

Manning said he did not know when Smith wrote the letter, addressed to "Poppa" -- his father Dwight Smith Sr. -- though its contents appears to indicate it was written recently, after Smith was moved to the prison near Smyrna.

Smith is charged with six felonies including first-degree murder and is set to go to trial in January 2014.

A decorated U.S. Army staff sergeant who was awarded the Purple Heart, Smith is accused of running down Lee with his SUV while she was out walking her dog in her Brandywine Hills neighborhood. He then threw her into his vehicle and drove off as she screamed, according to police. Lee's battered body was later found unclothed near an isolated state Department of Transportation maintenance yard in Wilmington.

According to court papers, Smith confessed to the homicide -- but not the rape -- shortly after he was arrested claiming he just "clicked on" that morning and "wanted to kill someone."

Beyond the claims of crimes committed overseas, Smith also complains about how he has been treated in prison and how he needs PTSD treatment.

Smith writes that he was getting treatment at the Young Correctional Institution in Wilmington, but has not received any treatment since his fall transfer to the Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna, where he is being held in solitary confinement.

"I just don't want to be locked up without getting some type of help," wrote Smith. "I really think that I need to be in the state (psychiatric) hospital."

Manning said his client "definitely has some mental health problems," and he and co-counsel Dade Werb plan to have Smith evaluated.

The tone of Smith's neatly handwritten two-page letter abruptly changes about halfway through, going from someone apparently on edge to a son chatting amiably with his father.

The letter begins with Smith writing that he is "in tears and pain and I can't seem to stop."

"I know that you told me to be strong but it is hard for me dad ... My mental health is getting worst (sic). I have been having more mental flashbacks of the war ... Being in this solitary confinement is really starting to play tricks with my mind."

Then, after writing about how the horrors of combat changed him, "Anyway! That is enough about me. Oh! By the way talking about God isn't bull(expletive) dad."

Smith then claims, without explanation , that he is working to save his wife's soul, adding, "I know that God has already forgiven me. I just want to go to heaven with you guys."

Smith goes on to ask about family members and tells his father to pass along greetings.

"I love you to death dad and always will," Smith concludes, signing the letter "Dwight Jr." and adding a P.S.:

"Like you said pops, strength is our family creed. And thanks for looking out for my wife."

Sean O'Sullivan, The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal

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