A look at John Needham, Jacque Villagomez and the events that led to her death
Jacqwelyn Villagomez, 19, was a high school graduate and an aspiring model when she started a relationship with John Needham in the summer of 2008. On Sept. 1, 2008, she was beaten to death by Needham in his San Clemente, Calif., condo.
"The Jacque Glow"
Jacque Villagomez grew up in Turlock, Calif., where she was a track star in high school. Her mother died when Jacque was young, but fortunately she had many loving friends. Sarah Savino lived with Jacque for a year. "She had a really vivacious personality. They call it the Jacque glow. She just had this glow about her," Savino told told "48 Hours."
Pvt. John Needham
John Needham and Jacque Villagomez knew each other for only two months, but their relationship quickly became passionate, intense and volatile. "We loved each other unconditionally," Needham said. "She had her issues and I had my issues. I just got back from Iraq and we were both broken people. And we kind of mended well. We helped each other."
Growing up, John Needham lived a carefree California lifestyle. A champion surfer, he also was passionate about painting and playing music. Needham said, "There was a point in my life where I was just kinda tired of surfing all day, working at surf shops. I wanted something more. So that's what kind of pushed me to join the military."
John Needham spent 11 months in Iraq, between 2006 and 2007, surviving some of the most intense combat of the war. His aggressiveness in battle earned him the nickname "the Needhammer." During his deployment, Pvt. Needham earned a Purple Heart for wounds he suffered during combat and an Army Commendation Medal for saving the lives of members his platoon.
Nearing a Breakdown
After months of unrelenting combat in some of the most dangerous sectors of Iraq, John Needham was exhausted and he felt he was nearing a breakdown. He said, "I started not to care anymore. I just tried personally to put myself in the most deadliest positions I can get into." By September of 2007 he said he had reached a boiling point.
On Sept. 18, 2007, Pvt. John Needham fell apart. Inside a Forward Operating Base, while drinking contraband whiskey with another member of his unit, Needham suddenly reached for a handgun. He said, "I snapped -- I completely turned into something I didn't want to be and I didn't want to live anymore." He said he put the gun to his head, wrestled with his comrade, and the weapon discharged. Somehow the bullet missed its mark and put a hole in the barracks wall.
Held in Isolation
Many in John Needham's platoon did not see the event as a suicide attempt. Needham's family felt that his commanding officers were determined that he be punished for an act that was considered a threat to his fellow soldiers and a serious violation of Army protocol. For weeks, he was held in isolation inside the barracks until his father finally managed to get him medically evacuated from Iraq.
After John Needham was medevaced from Iraq, his family fought hard to get him the medical treatment they felt he deserved. He is shown here with his father, Michael Needham Sr., on a bed in the Naval Medical Center in San Diego.
Bloody Crime Scene
Less than two months after being medically discharged from the Army, John Needham brutally beat his girlfriend, Jacque Villagomez. Needham's condo in San Clemente, Calif., became a crime scene, spattered with blood.
A Boiling Point
After John Needham attempted to end their relationship, Jacque Villagomez stormed back into his life, attacking another woman who had come to visit John. The woman fled the condo and called 911 to report the assault. When police arrived at the scene, they entered the condo and found Villagomez badly beaten and near death.
John Needham is seen in his mug shot after being arrested for the murder of Jacque Villagomez. John had been medically discharged from the U.S. Army less than two months earlier. He was suffering from a variety of physical and psychological injuries from his deployment in Iraq, including PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and a severe back injury. On the events of that evening, John said, "I see it as - just complete chaos. Complete insanity. I see myself being uncontrollable. I never wanted this to happen."
John Needham's bruised and bloody hands as photographed by detectives on the night of his arrest. It became clear to investigators that he had beaten Jacque Villagomez to death.
Their Final Night Together
Investigators discovered surveillance footage from a local grocery store taken just hours before Jacque Villagomez was killed. The video shows John Needham and Jacque walking hand in hand, buying a bottle of vodka for their final night together.