Dwight L. Smith, 24, has been charged with kidnapping, rape and murder in the death of a 65-year-old Wilmington, Del., woman.(Photo: (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal)
WILMINGTON, Del. -- A soldier
charged with kidnapping, raping and murdering a local woman last year is
now claiming in a letter that he killed innocent men, women and
children overseas and that his combat service got him "addicted to
The undated letter from Dwight L. Smith Jr. to his father was published by New York Times
columnist Nicholas Kristof in conjunction with a lengthy column Sunday
arguing that the military needs to do a better job caring for soldiers
scarred by war.
Smith, 25, is accused of the Dec. 19, 2011,
kidnapping, rape and murder of 65-year-old Marsha Lee and could face a
possible death sentence if convicted.
On Monday, Smith's defense
attorney Bradley V. Manning said he was aware of the letter's contents
but had not seen it before Sunday's publication.
"We are still
looking into what he said in the letter and finding people who can
corroborate or contradict what he wrote," said Manning.
served in Iraq from 2007 to 2008 and in Afghanistan from May 2010 to
April 2011, when he was wounded in a mortar attack. Manning, however,
declined to say Monday if Smith's history of traumatic brain injury in
combat or his diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder would play a
role in the legal strategy.
Prosecutor Steve Wood said Monday that he had read the letter but declined further comment.
letter is the first and most detailed public account from Smith since
his arrest and could be a preview of his legal defense.
letter, Smith writes, "I am going to be honest with you dad. I have
killed a lot of men and women and children. Some that didn't even do
anything for me to kill them. Also some that begged for mercy. I have a
problem. I think I got addicted to killing people.
"I could kill someone, go to sleep and forget that it ever happened," Smith writes.
got normal for me to be that way. I never wanted to be this way. I just
took my job way to (sic) serious. I took things to the extreme. Anyone
can tell you that I changed. It is like being a completely different
person," he adds.
Smith also cites mental health difficulties in
the letter and states that while in solitary confinement in a Delaware
prison he has been having flashbacks, hearing voices and "seeing things
in my cell."
Manning said he did not know when Smith wrote the
letter, addressed to "Poppa" -- his father Dwight Smith Sr. -- though
its contents appears to indicate it was written recently, after Smith
was moved to the prison near Smyrna.
Smith is charged with six felonies including first-degree murder and is set to go to trial in January 2014.
decorated U.S. Army staff sergeant who was awarded the Purple Heart,
Smith is accused of running down Lee with his SUV while she was out
walking her dog in her Brandywine Hills neighborhood. He then threw her
into his vehicle and drove off as she screamed, according to police.
Lee's battered body was later found unclothed near an isolated state
Department of Transportation maintenance yard in Wilmington.
to court papers, Smith confessed to the homicide -- but not the rape --
shortly after he was arrested claiming he just "clicked on" that
morning and "wanted to kill someone."
Beyond the claims of crimes
committed overseas, Smith also complains about how he has been treated
in prison and how he needs PTSD treatment.
Smith writes that he
was getting treatment at the Young Correctional Institution in
Wilmington, but has not received any treatment since his fall transfer
to the Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna, where he is being held in
"I just don't want to be locked up without
getting some type of help," wrote Smith. "I really think that I need to
be in the state (psychiatric) hospital."
Manning said his client
"definitely has some mental health problems," and he and co-counsel Dade
Werb plan to have Smith evaluated.
The tone of Smith's neatly
handwritten two-page letter abruptly changes about halfway through,
going from someone apparently on edge to a son chatting amiably with his
The letter begins with Smith writing that he is "in tears and pain and I can't seem to stop."
know that you told me to be strong but it is hard for me dad ... My
mental health is getting worst (sic). I have been having more mental
flashbacks of the war ... Being in this solitary confinement is really
starting to play tricks with my mind."
Then, after writing about
how the horrors of combat changed him, "Anyway! That is enough about me.
Oh! By the way talking about God isn't bull(expletive) dad."
then claims, without explanation , that he is working to save his
wife's soul, adding, "I know that God has already forgiven me. I just
want to go to heaven with you guys."
Smith goes on to ask about family members and tells his father to pass along greetings.
"I love you to death dad and always will," Smith concludes, signing the letter "Dwight Jr." and adding a P.S.:
"Like you said pops, strength is our family creed. And thanks for looking out for my wife."
Sean O'Sullivan, The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal