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Shooting Allegedly Staged to Avoid Returning to Iraq

Times Staff Writer

A U.S. Army combat veteran on leave from a unit headed back to Iraq arranged for a friend to shoot him in the leg in an attempt to avoid returning to the war zone, Philadelphia police said Thursday.

Spc. Marquise Roberts, 23, told police he had been shot Tuesday afternoon as he walked past two men arguing on a North Philadelphia street. But police said their investigation found that Roberts actually was shot once in the leg by a friend as part of a scheme to avoid returning to Iraq.

Roberts, who served seven months in Iraq during the U.S. invasion in 2003, was due to report back to Ft. Stewart, Ga., on Wednesday, police said. He is a supply specialist with the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized), according to commanders at Ft. Stewart. They said Roberts, who has been in the Army since 2001, was on a two-week holiday leave to his home in Philadelphia.

The division, which helped topple the Saddam Hussein regime in Baghdad in April 2003, has been ordered to begin heading back to Iraq next month. Roberts had returned from Iraq in midsummer 2003.

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Philadelphia Police Inspector William Colarulo said Roberts was shot by his wife’s cousin, Roland Fuller, 28, in North Philadelphia on Tuesday afternoon. Hospital officials called police after Roberts sought medical treatment -- standard policy for gunshot wounds, Colarulo said.

Roberts told police he heard a gunshot as he walked past the men arguing in the street and realized he had been shot in the leg. But Fuller told detectives that Roberts had been shot during an attempted robbery, Colarulo said.

Detectives who searched the scene where Roberts said he was shot found no bullet casings, blood or witnesses who recalled seeing or hearing gunshots.

“The investigation determined that he didn’t want to go back to Iraq and staged the shooting to avoid having to return,” Colarulo said.

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Police Lt. James Clark, who directed the investigation, said Roberts “said he had done seven months there and he didn’t want to go back. He wanted to stay with his family.”

Roberts was treated for the wound and handed over to police Wednesday. Roberts and Fuller were charged with conspiracy, recklessly endangering another person and filing a false police report. Fuller also was charged with aggravated assault and weapons offenses.

Roberts was shot with a handgun, police said.

Pentagon officials said they could recall no other instance in which a soldier on leave from Iraq or Afghanistan had been accused of deliberately harming himself or herself to avoid returning to duty.

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Of the 136,000 soldiers and Army civilians who took home leaves as of early November, they said, only one soldier had been classified as AWOL. An Army program entitles soldiers to two weeks at home midway through their deployment.

More than 5,000 soldiers have been charged with desertion from bases in the U.S. and overseas since the invasion of Iraq in early 2003, according to Pentagon statistics.

But the number of desertions in the fiscal year that ended in September was half the number for the fiscal year that ended the month of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, before troops were sent to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The military defines desertion as more than 30 consecutive days absent without leave.

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Two soldiers have received publicity for resisting their return to duty in Iraq while on home leave.

Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejia, 28, a National Guardsman from Florida, refused to return to Iraq after home leave in October 2003. He asked to be declared a conscientious objector.

This month, Spc. David Qualls filed a lawsuit challenging the Army’s authority to extend his service and threatened not to return to Iraq from home leave in Arkansas. A federal judge denied Qualls’ request to remain in the U.S. until his case was heard, and his lawyer said he would return to Iraq.

More than 800 former soldiers have failed to comply with orders to report for duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, the Army reported in October. Those ex-soldiers, called back to duty under the military’s Individual Ready Reserve program, were not charged with desertion. Most had requested delays or exemptions for school, medical emergencies or family hardships.

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In Roberts’ case, his return to duty is delayed indefinitely. He was being held under $50,000 bail pending a court hearing, police said.

Army officials said Roberts also could face punishment under the military justice system. They said the Army normally waited until civilian courts had ruled before deciding whether to charge soldiers in military court.


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