War damaged vet kills girlfriend; Is PTSD to blame?
"As of right now I'm trying just to live minute by minute, and try to take it day by day and be as positive a person that I can," said John Needham.
By early 2010, as his trial date neared, John's pain became unbearable. Back surgery in California failed to provide relief.
"He was in constant pain. I mean, when he sobered up, he could barely walk," according to his brother, Mike Needham Jr.
In desperation, John Needham went to a hospital in Tucson, Ariz. for yet another operation. He recuperated at his mother's home. She and John's father divorced long ago.
"He loved Arizona," Mike Needham Jr. said. "John felt like he was back in Iraq. He was in the desert. He had his boots on... And he was happy, ironically."
Shortly after the surgery, Mike Needham, Jr. drove from California to lift his brother's spirits.
"I remember I came in and he was sleeping. I grabbed his big toe and wiggled it. And he woke up and he put a smile on his face. He didn't know I was coming," he recalled. "And he's like, 'Oh, man, you're here.' And I was like, 'Yeah.' I was like, 'Go back to sleep... we'll see each other in the morning.' And he's like, 'OK, cool. Cool.'"
After a few hours of sleep, Mike Needham Jr. woke up to find John's door locked. It was early in the morning on Feb. 19, 2010.
"And I knock on it. I say, 'John.' I didn't hear a response. And I hit the door. It broke ... I found him on his knees layin' across the bed ... I said, 'John. John.' ...So I'm pumpin' on his chest and breathin' into his mouth. ...And -- he takes -- he takes one large breath in ... and then he breathes out," Mike Jr. said. "And I said, 'John. John. I'm slappin' him on the face. 'John.' I think he's back. He's not. And -- that was his last breath. He died right there in my arms."
John Needham was 26 years old.
"We were numb. You can never get over as a parent losing one of your children," Mike Needham Sr. said. "Just sitting here and looking at the beach reminds me of my son John ... I will love him for the rest of my life."
It was an overdose of painkillers that killed John Needham. The question is whether it was an accident or suicide.
"To produce a level that was as high as his ... there must've been an ingestion of a significant amount of opiates," Dr. Richard Friedman said. "Which makes an accident unlikely."
With John Needham gone, no one will ever really know. His autopsy reads "undetermined."
"Here you have this tough military guy, you know, a decorated veteran that's been through hell and back and then you find him dead on his bed, it's like you make it through grenades, you make it through gunshots, you make it through this, you make it through that, you go through the worst of the worst combat you could possibly experience, and then you die like that," said Mike Needham Jr.
Prosecutor McGreevy says John may have been a good soldier, but he needed to be held accountable for what he did to Jacque Villagomez. He never imagined the case would end like this.
"There is a level of frustration that we couldn't bring -- Mr. Needham to justice, and get justice for Jacque," he said.
Despite losing one of her closest friends, Sarah Savino has come to see Villagomez's death -- and Needham's -- in a different light.
"He suffered a host of mental problems because of his time at war," Roberts noted. "Do you have any sympathy for him because of all of his suffering?"
"I do, and I think that's part of why I've been able to forgive him and move forward," Sarah Savino replied. "I've always said, like how we lost Jacque, his family also lost a son. And they lost him in a very different way. I do think that the war, and the government, and all of that plays a huge part in what happened. ...he didn't get the proper care and -- and help that he needed. And I wish that he had. Because, if he had, maybe this wouldn't have happened."
There was no military funeral for Pvt. Needham. A small, family service marked his passing.
A few of his comrades will remember him for the lives he saved in Iraq.
Others will remember him for the life he took at home.
"There's a lot more that everyone could of done -- the Army and family.
There's a lot more everyone could have done for John," his brother said. "I think John was a casualty of this war... And so was Jacque... both of them."
On the anniversary of Jacque's death, the Savino sisters tossed flowers in the ocean in her memory.
"48 Hours Mystery" reached out repeatedly to the Army for an official response to John's story.
The Army declined to comment.
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