Can a veterans court help former GIs find justice here at home?

What are you going to do, shoot me?"

It was around ten o'clock at night when Edward Lynch heard the strange shouting. He went to the utility room at the back of his house to investigate and saw a man standing in his neighbor's yard, yelling into the night. Much of what he was saying was gibberish — though there was mention of a gun.

As Lynch watched, the stranger went up to his neighbor's car and rammed his elbow into the driver's side window. When the window didn't break, the man picked something up off the ground and threw it at the car. At that point, Lynch stepped out onto his back deck and asked what the hell he was doing.

The man turned and headed toward Lynch, scaling the four-foot-high chain-link fence that separated the properties.

Lynch didn't waste any time retreating inside, locking the deadbolt behind him and grabbing the phone. He was dialing 911 when the stranger started beating on the door, trying to get in. As Lynch related the situation to the dispatcher, the door burst open with a crash, the solid-core wood splitting around the deadbolt and down the doorframe.

"Leave the house," instructed the dispatcher. But Lynch wasn't about to do that. He studied the man now standing a few feet from him, a fit-looking guy a few inches shorter and several decades younger than the 57-year-old carpenter whose Colorado Springs home he'd just busted into. Although it was a cool October night, the man was wearing just sweatpants, a long-sleeve knit shirt and well-shined black business shoes.

From the man's physique and short-cropped hair, Lynch figured he might be military. Maybe from Fort Carson, the Army base down the road that lately seemed to be churning out a lot of veterans with screws loose. The papers were full of stories about out-of-control Carson vets killing fellow soldiers, killing their infant children, killing random civilians who got in their way.

Lynch stood his ground. On the deck, he'd instinctively picked up a full bottle of Guinness that had been left outside. He could feel the ridges of its cap bite into his fingers as he tightened his grip around its neck. The commotion had awakened his wife, Caroline, who came up behind him. "What the hell are you doing?" Lynch asked the stranger again. "You just broke my door. Look at that!"

The man didn't answer. Now that he was inside, all the aggression seemed drained from his demeanor. Smiling, he tried making small talk, asking Lynch's wife for her name.

The man smelled faintly of alcohol but his speech wasn't slurred, nor did he have a druggie's telltale jitters. Through the window, Lynch could see the flashing lights of approaching squad cars. He tried to distract the stranger by continuing their surreal conversation, all the while gripping the Guinness bottle.

The man said something about the Army, about how the three of them were on some sort of military installation. He acted like there was something important he had to tell the couple — though he couldn't seem to wrap his mind around exactly what it was.

He never got the chance to share his secret. Police officers, their guns drawn, came through the shattered door frame and ordered the stranger to lie on the ground. As the cops handcuffed him, the man offered a final parting thought to his bewildered hosts. "I have a theory about this," he said calmly. "I think I am going to be arrested."

The murders started in August 2005, when Stephen Sherwood killed his wife and then himself in their Fort Collins home. A soldier at Fort Carson, the Army installation south of Colorado Springs that houses roughly 25,000 GIs, Sherwood had returned from Iraq just a few days earlier.

Several months later, a Fort Carson soldier beat a colleague to death with a fireplace poker. Then another soldier shook his infant daughter to death. A Colorado Springs man was shot dead in his home in a robbery gone bad; a Pueblo taxi driver was shot in the head. Two Springs residents were hanging yard-sale signs when they were gunned down in a drive-by.

The most shocking murders were tied to soldiers Bruce Bastien, Louis Bressler and Kenneth Eastridge, who were found guilty of a crime spree that including drive-by shootings, aggravated robbery, running over a nursing student and stabbing her with a combat knife, and killing two of their fellow soldiers, execution style.

In all, fifteen Fort Carson GIs have been arrested in connection with a dozen murders over the past five years. And these aren't the only crimes linked with soldiers in Colorado Springs. Since 2005, the number of military personnel in the El Paso County jail has increased more than 25 percent, outpacing the population growth of soldiers and veterans in the region.

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner

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