L U B B O C K, Texas, March 1, 2003 -- A Gulf War Syndrome defense is all that stands between decorated Army veteran Louis Jones Jr. and the federal execution chamber.
Jones is scheduled to die by lethal injection March 18 at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., for the 1995 rape and murder of 19-year-old Army Pvt. Tracie McBride. He has exhausted appeals but has asked President Bush to spare his life.
Jones' attorney in Lubbock, Texas, Tim Floyd, said Jones should be dropped from death row because the injuries he suffered in the Gulf War led to his crimes. Floyd claims new medical evidence, which the jury did not see, will back his claims.
"The jury that considered this case was not aware, because they could not be aware, that there has been evidence that is clear now that Sgt. Jones was exposed to nerve gas of Saddam Hussein," Floyd said.
"What medical science now can tell us is that he has a very specific form of brain injury, and that form of brain injury did lead to the conduct and personality changes that he exhibited when he came back," he said.
Victim’s Family Doesn’t Buy It
Tracie McBride's mother told ABCNEWS' Good Morning America that Jones used a similar defense in the trial, and it didn't work.
"It was a hotly contested thing at the trial," said Irene McBride of Centerville, Minn. "They did bring up Persian Gulf syndrome back then and brain damage."
She says Jones' latest defense is nothing more than a last-minute excuse. "There's a lot of people that go to the Gulf War that don't come back and murder," she said.
Jones, 52, has received political support from Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas. Although Hutchison supports the death penalty, she says Jones should undergo a brain scan before Bush decides whether the war veteran should be put to death.
Stacie McBride, the victim's sister, says she's confident the president "knows who the victim is" and won't spare Jones' life.
"I don't think he's going to overturn it," she said. "He's a smart, a very intelligent man, and based on the facts of this case, in no way, shape or form will anyone see Jones to be the victim."
The McBrides say they plan on traveling to Terre Haute for Jones' scheduled execution.
Nerve Gas Can Cause Brain Damage
Hutchison has supported research by Dr. Robert Haley, an epidemiologist with the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, on Gulf War veterans. She has secured $11 million in federal money to support his studies.
Haley's research has shown that some Gulf War Veterans' illnesses can be attributed to brain damage caused by toxic substances, particularly sarin nerve gas.
Haley said in Jones' clemency petition that Jones suffers from brain damage, not a psychological illness. He based his diagnosis on a review of medical records and discussions with psychiatrists.
Jones served in the military for 22 years. A veteran of combat in Grenada and the Gulf War, he retired in 1993 with a half-dozen medals to his name, including three bronze stars.
Two years later, he was arrested for the rape and murder of McBride. Jones abducted the young Army private from a laundry room at Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas.
Brutal Rape and Murder
McBride, who had been an honor student in high school, was just beginning her dream career in the military. Jones took her at gunpoint to his apartment, raped her, beat her to death with a tire iron, then dumped her body 27 miles away. When he was arrested two weeks later, he confessed and led police to the body.
McBride's parents attended the trial, where Jones was convicted and sentenced to death. The jury rejected arguments that Jones suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder from his combat tours in Grenada and the Gulf. Jones had been deployed near Kuwait's burning oil fields and at Iraqi weapons sites that had been bombed by the United States.
Tens of thousands of Gulf War vets returned with a variety of illnesses, and some have become very sick. Symptoms include chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromylagia, chronic diarrhea, migraines, dizziness and loss of balance. Some have been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease or ALS, a progressive, fatal disease.
The Justice Department is consulting with the White House on how to respond to Jones' clemency request.