A Fort Drum military policeman accused of stabbing to death two Army buddies at their apartment fled to Ohio in a car belonging to one victim and admitted to an investigator that he killed them, authorities said Friday.
A not-guilty plea was entered on behalf of Spc. Joshua Hunter, 20, at his arraignment on second-degree murder charges in the deaths of Waide James, 20, of Cocoa, Fla., and Diego Valbuena, 20, of Port Saint Lucie, Fla. The three friends returned in the spring from a yearlong tour in Iraq with the 10th Mountain Division, Hunter as an MP and the other specialists as drivers.
The bodies of James and Valbuena, each with multiple stab wounds, were found Tuesday in a duplex the three men shared near the main entrance of the northern New York military post. Authorities said the two were killed sometime Sunday or Monday.
Hunter had Valbuena's car when he was arrested in southern Ohio early Wednesday, and "made admissions that, with the intent to take the lives of these individuals, he did commit the murders," Jefferson County Sheriff's Detective Scott Sterling said in a deposition.
The killer left behind blood or other forensic evidence from an injury to one or more of his fingers, Sterling said. Hunter was found with unspecified injuries "to two of his fingers consistent with that suffered by the assailant," Sterling said.
Hunter, who was raised in Ona, W.Va., politely answered "yes, sir" during his brief appearance in Jefferson County Court. He was ordered held without bail and was assigned a public defender.
Hunter's wife, Emily Hunter, told The Associated Press on Thursday that he claimed he saw his best friend "blown to pieces" in Iraq. She and his parents said Hunter came back a changed man plagued by flashbacks, stress and sleeplessness.
"All angles are going to be investigated in relation" to his military experiences, defense attorney Laurel McCarthy said.
Maj. Fred Harrell, a spokesman for Fort Drum, initially said the Army is looking into Emily Hunter's comments and any other relatives' statements about Hunter's involvement in combat, but said later Friday only that the post is cooperating with the civilian criminal investigation. He declined to say if the Army was investigating.
Harrell said there were no casualties in Joshua Hunter's unit during the yearlong tour in Iraq.
A combat action badge given to every soldier who engages with the enemy is not listed in Hunter's service record, Harrell said. But he noted that soldiers update their own records and "some people do not keep their records up to date."
"It's not to say that he may or may not have earned" a combat commendation, Harrell said.