A decorated Army veteran who blames childhood abuse and exposure to nerve gas during the Gulf War for his killing of a female soldier has asked President Bush to spare his life.
As the president considers sending thousands of Americans into another war against Iraq, Louis Jones Jr. is scheduled to die by lethal injection March 18 at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind. He has exhausted his appeals.
Jones, 52, admitted killing Pvt. Tracie McBride in 1995 after kidnapping her from Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo and raping her.
During his 1995 trial in Lubbock, defense experts testified that he suffered from brain damage from abuse as a child and post-traumatic stress from his combat tours in Grenada and the Gulf. Prosecutors brought in their own experts to dispute the claims.
After the trial, a Dallas researcher who has studied veterans of the 1991 war against Iraq concluded that Jones suffered from a severe form of Gulf War Syndrome from exposure to sarin nerve gas and other toxins.
Jones' attorney filed a clemency request with Bush in December, seeking a life sentence without parole. Jones has also written personally to the president, admitting his crime and expressing remorse.
The Justice Department is consulting with the White House on how to respond to the clemency request. Prosecutors oppose the request.
Jones grew up in Chicago and spent 22 years in the military before retiring in 1993 as a master sergeant in the Airborne Rangers. His honors included a meritorious service medal, a Southwest Asia service medal with three bronze service stars, a Kuwait liberation medal, badges for marksmanship and parachuting, and a good-conduct medal, according to his plea for clemency.
But, the petition says, Jones was a changed man after returning from the Gulf in May 1991.
"It solves the mystery that was at the heart of the trial: how and why someone with the background and character of Louis Jones could have committed such a horrible crime," the petition says.
Dr. Robert W. Haley, an epidemiologist and expert on Gulf War diseases at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, said in the clemency petition that Jones suffers from brain damage, not a psychological illness.
Jones and his unit were exposed to chemical fallout following U.S. bombing raids on Iraqi weapons storage sites, the petition said. He suffered from "irritability and hostility, and numerous neurological symptoms," Haley wrote.
Haley did not examine Jones or testify at his trial. He based his diagnosis on reviewing medical records and on reports by psychiatrists and neurologists who testified during the trial.
McBride's mother, Irene McBride, said the petition is a ploy by Jones to escape the consequences for killing her daughter.
"I agree with the judge, the jury, the Supreme Court and the appellate court," she said. "They didn't feel (the brain damage) was enough. A lot of people have come back from the Gulf War and not murdered people."
Members of the McBride family in Centerville, Minn., their friends and others who knew Tracie McBride have written letters to the Justice Department, pleading that Jones' execution take place as scheduled.
A recent study of Gulf War Syndrome indicates that some people's genetic makeup leaves them more vulnerable to even low levels of nerve gas, according to the clemency petition. The research was done by Dr. Rogene Henderson at the University of New Mexico, on a grant from the Pentagon.
A blood test done on Jones in January shows he lacks a common enzyme that would have helped his body metabolize nerve gas, said Jones' lawyer, Timothy W. Floyd. The research behind the enzyme theory was conducted by Haley.