RALEIGH, N.C. — A decorated retired Marine whose career as a sniper was derailed by a video that showed him urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters has died, his attorney said today.
Cpl. Robert Richards, 28, was found dead Wednesday by his wife at their Jacksonville home, Attorney Guy Womack said. Neither foul play nor suicide is suspected.
The death was most likely from Richards changing medications he took because of injuries he suffered in a roadside bomb during one of his three tours in Afghanistan, Womack said.
Richards was demoted from sergeant after a video showed four Camp Lejeune Marines — in full body armor — urinating on three Afghans in 2011. One Marine looks down at the bodies and jokes, “Have a good day, buddy.”
The video was posted on YouTube in early 2012. It was condemned internationally and caused outrage in the Middle East.
It was “a temporary lapse of discipline, and it should in no way define the service and honor of the snipers,” Womack said.
Richards’ sniper unit killed 12 Taliban fighters, some of whom the Marines knew were part of a cell making roadside bombs and training others, Womack said. About a month earlier, the Taliban cell had planted a bomb that blew the legs off a Marine.
One of the Marines in the video testified that their operation was designed to pursue bomb-making experts believed responsible for killing a corporal whose leg was later found hanging from a tree. The Marines were reacting to those events when they urinated on the bodies, Womack said.
“He never said it was OK,” Womack said. “Marines shouldn’t do that. At the same time, it really wasn’t the crime of the century. “
Richards almost died when a roadside bomb exploded near him during his second tour, Womack said. Shrapnel went through his throat and an emergency tracheotomy on the battlefield saved his life, the attorney said. He also almost lost a foot and suffered back injuries. He was awarded a Purple Heart.
Richards was supposed to get 18 months off from active duty, but he returned early when a platoon commander asked him to join a new sniper unit that had no combat veteran snipers.
“He called it a personal obligation and said he would feel guilty if any of them were to die from their inexperience,” Womack said.
Richards will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.