LUDOWICI — Georgia prosecutors will seek the death penalty against three Army soldiers accused of killing a former serviceman and his girlfriend to protect an anti-government militia group, officials said Thursday during tense court hearings in which one victim’s stepfather was tackled and handcuffed as he tried to rush the defense table.
Pvt. Isaac Aguigui, Pvt. Christopher Salmon and Sgt. Anthony Peden — all active-duty soldiers stationed at Fort Stewart — are each charged with 13 counts including malice murder, felony murder and illegal gang activity in the Dec. 4 slayings.
The victims, former soldier Michael Roark and his 17-year-old girlfriend, Tiffany York, were shot in the head in the woods of rural Long County near Fort Stewart in southeast Georgia. Fishermen found their bodies the day after they were killed.
“I want them gone. I want all of these individuals to disappear,” said Nicholas Lee York, the slain girl’s older brother, who applauded the decision to seek death for the soldiers. “They took something irreplaceable from me.”
The case took a stunning turn at an earlier hearing Monday when prosecutors told a Superior Court judge the accused soldiers belonged to an anti-government militia operating within the U.S. military that had stockpiled at least $87,000 worth of guns and bomb components. They said the group had a range of plans — from bombing a park fountain in nearby Savannah to poisoning apple crops in the state of Washington — and its ultimate goal was to overthrow the U.S. government and assassinate the president. However, President Barack Obama was not mentioned by name as their target.
Atlantic Judicial Circuit District Attorney Tom Durden cites domestic terrorism as an aggravating factor that warrants the death penalty. However, all charges against the soldiers relate directly to the killings. No charges have been filed in state or federal court accusing the three suspects of terrorist plots or acts.
“Sometimes some of these things don’t fit neatly into our state laws,” Durden said after court when asked about the absence of terrorism-related charges. “We’re going forward with what we feel comfortable with.”
Read more in the Sept. 1 edition of the News.