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Hypnosis ordered for U.S. soldier charged with killing comrades

By Laura L. Myers

SEATTLE (Reuters) - A U.S. Army sergeant accused of killing five fellow servicemen at a military counseling center in Iraq in 2009 and deemed to have been psychotic at the time has been ordered to undergo forensic hypnosis in a bid to unlock buried memories.

An Army judge ordered the hypnosis for Sergeant John Russell, 48, in granting three defense motions seeking to learn more about Russell's mental state during a shooting frenzy the military has said might have been triggered by combat stress.

Russell, a member of the Army's 54th Engineer Battalion based in Bamberg, Germany, faces five charges of premeditated murder, one charge of aggravated assault and one charge of attempted murder in connection with the May 2009 shootings.

Two of the dead were medical staff officers at a combat stress counseling clinic called Camp Liberty, part of the U.S. military's Victory Base Complex near the Baghdad airport. The other three were Army enlisted soldiers who happened to be at the center at the time.

The judge in the case, Army Colonel David Conn, also ordered Russell to undergo a specialized brain scan and a battery of psychological tests.

But in a decision made public by the military on Tuesday, he denied a request to admit testimony from an Army brigadier general about what Russell's lawyers say was a lack of proper supervision in his unit.

Six months ago, Russell was ordered to stand trial in a military court at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state that has the power to sentence him to death if he is convicted.

If the defense can persuade a military jury that Russell was not in control of his actions, it may be able to argue that he is not legally responsible.

During proceedings last month on his mental condition, a University of Pennsylvania forensic psychiatrist gave the opinion that Russell was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and psychosis at the time of the shooting spree.

The psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Sadoff, a veteran of some 10,000 criminal cases, also diagnosed Russell as having "dissociative disorder," or a lack of memory about the shootings.

Russell's lawyer, James Culp, told Reuters he hoped to prove that his client was legally insane at the time of the shootings.

"The defense and prosecution agree that Sergeant Russell was psychotic," Culp said. "The question is, 'How psychotic was he?'" He added: "Not one person in the military has ever been found not guilty by reason of insanity."

(Reporting and writing by Laura L. Myers; Editing by Steve Gorman and Cynthia Johnston)

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