Raechel Richards launched a website to raise donations for her husband's defense. Sgt. Robert Richards is accused of filming fellow Marines desecrating the corpses of dead Taliban fighters. (Courtesy of Raechel Richards)
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The wife of a Marine charged with filming himself and his teammates urinating on Taliban corpses in Afghanistan claims her husband is a war hero who was about to receive the nation's third-highest combat valor award when the scandal became public.
Sgt. Robert Richards, a sniper team leader with 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., is one of eight Marines who have faced punishment over the July 2011 incident, which became an international scandal and embarrassment for the Corps after a whistleblower posted the video to YouTube. He was charged Jan. 29 with numerous violations.
Richards's wife, Jacksonville, N.C., real estate agent Raechel Richards, is promoting her husband's story and accomplishments. On Feb. 12 she launched a website, DefendSgtRichards.com, where she compiles media coverage of the case against the Marine and seeks donations to offset the cost of retaining civilian counsel.
Reached by phone, Raechel Richards declined to comment about the website.
The website's accompanying Facebook page, also created Feb. 12, attracted more than 500 supporters overnight. There, Raechel Richards has posted photos of her husband with his sniper team, and of him recovering from the improvised explosive device blast that earned him a Purple Heart and nearly ended his life.
In a lengthy biographical statement on the page, Raechel Richards wrote that the urination incident occurred shortly after an assistant team leader in the unit had been fatally wounded by an IED.
"During this time, the team initiated an ambush on three armed insurgent fighters and were ordered to examine the bodies of the enemy. En route to the area, an 8-year-old boy brandished an AK-47 and pointed it at the team. Rob had to shoot the child in order to save his Marine," she wrote. "They treated the child and attempted to MEDEVAC him. … The child ended up surviving his wounds and was overheard later on a military radio communicating Marine positions to Taliban fighters."
For actions during that deployment, Richards was nominated for a Bronze Star with combat V device, which officials later recommended for upgrade to a Silver Star, Raechel Richards wrote on her website. The award, she said, was awaiting approval at Marine Corps Forces Central Command when the YouTube video emerged. The Richards' attorney, Houston-based defense lawyer Guy Womack, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, confirmed that account and said he intends to secure the award citation if the case proceeds through the military legal system — though he hopes Richards can avoid court-martial and see the case settled at a lower level.
"During my Marine career I served with four Medal of Honor winners, three Marine and one Navy, and I served under two Navy Cross winners, and I met six or seven others," Womack said. "Sgt. Richards is one of the most impressive Marines I have ever met."
Col. Sean Gibson, a spokesman for Marine Corps Combat Development Command, which is overseeing the case against Richards, said the Corps cannot comment on military awards before they are presented.
On Richards' Facebook page, supporters have responded with indignation directed at Marine brass for pursuing the case at all. "What you're going through should never happen," one supporter wrote. "I'm sorry that the command and the people you serve admirably have failed you, and turned on you."
A joint Article 32 hearing for Richards and another Marine tied to the scandal, Capt. James V. Clement, is expected to take place in April at Camp Lejeune. Clement was the executive officer for Kilo Company, 3/2.
Six other Marines have been disciplined for their involvement in the incident, with two receiving demotions and fines after courts-martial, and four, including another officer, accepting nonjudicial punishments.
The video that appeared on YouTube was one of 12 filmed that day.