Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Family questions investigation into soldier's death

By Kathryn Fiegen
Iowa City Press-Citizen

The family of a fallen Riverside soldier said they still have unanswered questions after receiving the results recently of an investigation into his death that concluded he killed himself in Iraq.

Initial reports said U.S. Army Sgt. James Musack, 23, of Riverside, was killed in a non-combat related incident Nov. 21, 2006, in Samarra, Iraq. He was serving his second tour of duty in Iraq with the 4th Infantry Division out of Fort Hood, Texas.

The U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command investigated the death and concluded in December 2007 that it was a suicide.

However, Musack's sister, Morgan Rorex, 20, of Coralville, said her family doesn't believe Musack killed himself just days before he was supposed to come home from Iraq.

"We didn't think that's what happened," she said. "There's too many inconsistencies."

Musack's family received the results of the investigation in the mail two weeks ago. The report is more than 100 pages long and includes interviews with unit members, the family and friends who last spoke to Musack, the results of forensic tests and diagrams of where his body was found. Many of the details, including the names of who was interviewed, were redacted.

Christopher Grey, Chief of Public Affairs for the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, said Musack's death was "thoroughly investigated."

"We stand by the findings of this investigation," he said. "My heart goes out to the family, of course, but at this point, we stand by our investigation."

According to the report, Musack was found 67 meters from the southeast corner of Patrol Base South in the Al-Taji area of Iraq about 9:45 a.m. Nov. 21. He was found lying on his right side, with his left shoulder slumped over his body. The unit members who found him said in the interviews that Musack's M4 rifle was parallel to his body with the barrel pointed toward his head and his left arm was draped over it. The report said he died of a gunshot wound to his head.

Musack had arrived at the base the day before to train members of another unit, and the area he in which was found was used as a restroom or private area to make phone calls by other soldiers at the base, the report said.

Rorex said the family is questioning a few aspects of the report, starting with the soldier interviews.

Unit members who were interviewed about the death said Musack was generally happy but kept to himself. They said Musack had no enemies in the unit and didn't express any family, financial or emotional distress. They also said he was excited to go home and talked about buying a house in Texas.

The report also said Musack was not being treated for mental illness, taking medication or receiving counseling.

On the day of his death, soldiers said nothing seemed out of the ordinary, except Musack seemed to be smoking more than usual. He was last seen stepping out to smoke about 5:15 a.m. or 5:20 a.m. The report said gunshots were heard near the base about 6 a.m.

"Why would no one go to look for him until 9:45?" Rorex said. "It doesn't make sense."

Interviews with family members and friends paint a different picture than what the soldiers said.

Rorex said her mother, Yvette Eastom of Glenpool, Okla., and aunt, DeeAnna Newlin of Tulsa, Okla., were interviewed. In their statements, in the days before his death Musack was paranoid and edgy. He said he was being "set up" and said he had seen something he shouldn't have seen involving the death of a little girl and he had to "watch his back." Musack told his family he didn't think he was coming home.

Rorex said he didn't provide many details to his family about the little girl because he thought the calls were being recorded, but she thinks the incident led to his death.

Eastom said she and her sister told her son not to say anything about the little girl because he was two weeks away from coming home.

"It will probably be a decision I'll regret the rest of my life," she said.

Eastom said she is communicating with U.S. senators in her state and will tell "anyone who will listen" that Musack's case should be re-investigated.

Grey said occasionally credible information comes up after investigations wrap up and the cases are re-opened, but not often.

Rorex said the family just wants some peace.

"We just want to figure out what really happened to James," she said.

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