Review of Murder In Baker Company by Cilla McCain
This is a story that has followed an unconventional path. It was first brought to light by author Mark Boal, who wrote an article for Playboy magazine (Mark is also up for best screenplay for The Hurt Locker). Mark's magazine article piqued the interest of director Paul Haggis, who turned the story into the movie In The Valley of Elah, which I saw and thought was very good. Mark Boal wrote the screenplay. There's even been a 48 Hours segment. Now comes a more complete telling of the story by author Cilla McCain
Murder In Baker Company tells the story of the murder of Richard Davis by a fellow soldier, the search for the truth by Richard's dad, and the subsequent trial and sentencing of the men involved. It's a compelling story with many layers. The story highlights a number of issues including PTSD, gang members in the military, mental health problems in the military, prescription drug misuse by soldiers, the bureaucracy of the military, and an imperfect justice system.
Richard Davis had just returned from serving in Iraq. He and his fellow soldiers had taken part in the original assault on Baghdad. Two days after their return Richard went out drinking with a group of fellow soldiers. They ended up at a strip club. What took place next depends on who you ask. What is known is that Richard was brutally murdered. When Richard didn't show up for roll call the next day or the day after little was done to find his whereabouts. He was eventually listed as AWOL.
This is where Richard's dad, Lanny, enters the picture. He knows his son, and he knows he isn't AWOL. When he can't get any assistance from the military, he goes to Fort Benning himself to look for answers. Even then the military doesn't seem too concerned. They do little to assist Lanny. Lanny is a veteran. He does a little investigative work on his own and enlists the aid of others who are in a position to help. Eventually he convinces the army that a crime has been committed. Still the army does little to move things along. It's not until one of the men involved in the murder confesses to another soldier that an investigation is begun.
It doesn't take long for the four soldiers who were involved in the murder to be arrested. And once they are behind bars, it's a long journey at getting to the truth. Lanny's continued search for answers is what drove the movie and it's what drives this book as well. The truth is that without his persistence Richard might still be listed as AWOL and Lanny and his wife Remy might not ever have learned what had happened to their son.
There were a number of issues covered in the book that were intriguing. The issue of PTSD, which happens to be a topical subject right now, could definitely have played a role. There was also an interesting section about the use of antidepressant medication for soldiers and the misuse of the antimalarial drug Lariam. It's almost hard to believe how inept the military was when it came to the distribution of this drug.
The trial and eventual sentencing also had its share of intrigue. Lanny isn't convinced that the truth has been fully uncovered. But after reading the book, I came away thinking that the murder was committed by one individual. That there was no plan. The other three soldiers were at the wrong place at the wrong time and with the wrong individual. That doesn't excuse their actions before, during, and after. But in at least one case, that of Mario Navarrete, I feel that his sentence was excessive considering his level of participation. Two things did him in. First, his allegiance was in the wrong place. His unwillingness to go against the actual murderer was a mistake. He states that he feared for himself and his family. That may have been true, but once everyone was behind bars he could have come forward. His second mistake was his lawyer. His lawyer, who was ill at the time due to cancer treatments, made some strategic errors that ended up costing Navarrete a life sentence. The lawyer screws up and all he loses is a case.
The author closes the book by telling of similar stories of soldiers whose deaths have gone un-investigated or that have been investigated poorly. This is an important book with an important message. Individuals can make a difference. And Cilla McCain has done her part to make a difference with this book.