Former Marine sniper Robert Richards, a central figure in a 2012 video scandal involving Marines urinating on the corpses of Afghan insurgents, has been found dead at his home in North Carolina.
Richards, 28, died in Jacksonville, outside Camp Lejeune, on Wednesday night, according to his lawyer and friend, Guy L. Womack. Richards’ wife found his body, Womack said Thursday.
Womack said the death did not appear to be self-inflicted, and there were no signs of a struggle. He said an autopsy was performed Thursday, with toxicological test results expected in about two weeks.
Womack said he suspected the death may be related to medication Richards took for combat wounds and post-traumatic stress disorder. "He was taking a whole cocktail of medications," he said.
Richards, who left the Marine Corps in 2013 on a medical retirement, pleaded guilty at a court-martial at Camp Lejeune in August 2013 to several charges related to a video that showed Richards and three other Marines urinating on the corpses in Helmand province. He was reduced in rank from sergeant to corporal, but avoided a bad-conduct discharge.
The 39-second video triggered international outrage when it was posted online in January 2012. One Marine could be heard saying to one of the dead men, "Have a good day, buddy."
One Marine testified that a sergeant in the platoon had been killed earlier in the day by a roadside bomb, and the Marines believed the dead insurgents had been responsible.
"It’s heart-rending," Womack said said of Richards’ death. "He was truly a heroic young Marine."
Womack said he fielded condolence calls from Marine corporals all the way up to a Marine four-star general.
Richards and his wife had sold their home in North Carolina and had bought a home in Florida, where the couple were from, Womack said. They were planning to move there within the next week or so, he said.
The Marine Corps said in a statement: "We are aware of reports of the tragic passing of Cpl. Robert W. Richards. We offer our deepest condolences to his family and friends."
Richards was a highly trained sniper who served three tours in Afghanistan. On his second tour, he was badly wounded by a roadside bomb in 2010 that sent shrapnel tearing through his neck and nearly severed his foot. He also suffered back injuries and a traumatic brain injury.
After months of hospital treatment for his wounds, Womack said, Richards volunteered for a third tour. It was on that tour that the video was taken.
Eight Marines were court-martialed or received nonjudicial punishment for their roles in the video incident. Richards pleaded guilty to conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline, including the indiscriminate firing of weapons, failure to properly supervise Marines and failure to report misconduct.
In an interview with Marine Times last year, Richards expressed remorse for causing hardship for his fellow Marines.
"When you’re under that much stress and in that environment, your whole mental being changes," Richards was quoted as saying. "You’re no longer Joe the Family Man. You’re a warrior, and if you read back to biblical wars and wars since the dawn of time, men have been doing this to men for millennia."
Richards retired with an honorable discharge and was receiving benefits for a 100% disability, according to Womack. He will be buried in February at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors, the lawyer said.
The burial is timed to coincide with a reunion of Richards’ Marine unit planned in Washington at that time. "It’s so all his guys can be there with him," Womack said.