- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2003

COLUMBUS (AP) — The body was almost a skeleton when investigators found it, hidden in the woods for nearly four months and so decomposed that knife marks etched in its bones were the only way to tell the man had been stabbed.

Spc. Richard Davis had survived the war in Iraq, where he turned 25 during the march to Baghdad, only to be slain after celebrating his homecoming at a topless bar near Fort Benning.

With the discovery of his body earlier this month came a even more disturbing twist. The four men accused of turning on him with fists and a blade, then hiding his body, had served beside him in the same infantry unit in the blazing desert sands.

Now the Army is on the defensive, accused by Spc. Davis’ family of writing him off as absent without leave instead of quickly investigating his disappearance. Some people also are questioning the investigators’ conclusion that the killing was simply the result of a brawl gone bad with battlefield trauma as a factor.

Spc. Davis returned from the Middle East on July 12 from his second deployment since May 2002. His unit — 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division — had spent most of the past 14 months in the region.

Upon returning, he and four other soldiers from his company piled into a car for a night out to celebrate at a topless bar.

At some point, Spc. Davis apparently insulted one of the dancers and the soldiers were kicked out, said Lt. Steve Cox of the Columbus Police Department.

Spc. Davis’ fellow soldiers later told police they were upset about it and started brawling with Spc. Davis in the parking lot. They left and drove about three miles before Pfc. Alberto Martinez stopped the car.

Two of the men, Pvt. Jacob Burgoyne and Pfc. Mario Navarrete, got out and continued their fight with Spc. Davis. Then, they said, Pfc. Martinez pulled a knife and stabbed Spc. Davis several times.

The four soldiers drove to a convenience store and bought lighter fluid. Then they returned to the bloodied corpse, tried to burn it and left it in the woods.

The account of the deadly brawl came from Pvt. Burgoyne, Pfc. Navarrete and Pfc. Douglas Woodcoff in police interviews following their arrest on Nov. 8, the day after Spc. Davis’ body was found.

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