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Army defends handling of slain soldier's case

From Maria Fleet

Col. Steven Salazar says the Army followed procedures after Spc. Richard Davis was declared AWOL. Davis was later found slain.
Col. Steven Salazar says the Army followed procedures after Spc. Richard Davis was declared AWOL. Davis was later found slain.

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FORT BENNING, Georgia (CNN) -- A U.S. Army official is defending the military's actions following the disappearance of a soldier who was declared AWOL but later found slain -- allegedly by fellow servicemen.

Col. Steven Salazar, commanding officer of the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Benning, said Thursday that the Army acted in accordance with procedures after Spc. Richard Davis was declared AWOL -- absent without leave -- shortly after the brigade returned from in Iraq in July.

Davis, 24, survived his brigade's assault on Baghdad this year, but Columbus, Georgia. police said he was killed July 14, shortly after returning to Fort Benning.

Investigators said Davis went out for a celebratory evening with four fellow soldiers to a strip club. After Davis made an "inappropriate comment" to a woman there, officials said, the entire group was kicked out of the club.

The soldiers and Davis fought in the parking lot, investigators said, and then drove to a wooded area off base property. There, police said, Davis was beaten and stabbed repeatedly until he died. His body was set on fire and then covered with debris, authorities said.

His body was found November 7 after a tipster indicated the location and allegedly implicated four soldiers, all members of Davis' unit.

Three of the soldiers accused in connection with the slaying are being held in Muscogee County Jail in Columbus on $25,000 bond, charged with concealing a death. A fourth discharged soldier -- the man police said stabbed Davis -- is awaiting extradition in California.

Father: Son wouldn't go AWOL

Davis' father, Lanny Davis of St. Charles, Missouri, has expressed frustration that the Army did not immediately take action in the disappearance after he told officials his son would not go AWOL.

The elder Davis said he was told initially that his son was last seen the afternoon of July 14 at the PX, the post's convenience store, buying clothes. The new clothes were left behind among the younger Davis' personal items at his bunk in Fort Benning, his father said he was told by members of the unit.

"My son isn't the kind of man to go AWOL," Lanny Davis said. "Why would someone who's going AWOL leave all the new clothes they just bought?"

Salazar said normal Army procedure calls for a soldier to be listed as AWOL 48 hours after failing to report for duty. After 10 days of absence, the family is notified. He said missing soldiers often return home or the family can be helpful in locating them.

But such was not the case with Davis. His father had not heard from him since he called from Baghdad on a borrowed satellite phone.

Army regulations also call for an AWOL soldier to be dropped from the roles and reclassified as a deserter after 30 days, as was done in Davis' case.

"The unit followed the procedures," Salazar said at a Thursday news conference.

He said the unit "worked with the Davis family to help locate Spc. Davis, and it was unit leaders that discovered the information that led to the discovery of his remains."

Salazar said military police had been informed of Davis' disappearance August 1, but it was not clear if they launched a missing person investigation at that time.

The commanding officer expressed his sorrow about Davis' death and offered condolences to his family.

"His life and death have had a profound effect on this unit," Salazar said. "Richard was a good soldier who served his country in combat during Operation Iraqi Freedom and was awarded the Army commendation medal for his service."

Davis also had tours of duty in Bosnia and Kuwait.

Salazar said the unit held a traditional soldier's memorial for Davis on Thursday in a training field at Fort Benning.

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