A Marine Corps combat veteran who endured a long, public legal battle with the service's senior leadership was found dead Wednesday night.
Retired Cpl. Robert Richards, 28, died at his home in Jacksonville, North Carolina, according to Guy Womack, Richards' attorney and friend. An autopsy is being conducted to determine the cause of death, Womack said, adding that it does not appear to be self-inflicted. A medical examiner will look at the mix of medication Richards was taking, he said.
Richards was a scout sniper with multiple deployments to Afghanistan, including one in 2010 during which he sustained severe injuries. Peers and superiors alike praised him for his combat prowess and leadership skills, evidenced by his being hand-selected to serve as the scout sniper platoon team leader for 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, during its 2011 tour.
It was during that deployment when Richards and three other Marines made a video of themselves urinating on Taliban corpses. The video surfaced online in January 2012, causing an international uproar. But the Marine Corps' prosecution of Richards and others connected to the incident would become overshadowed by allegations that the service's commandant, Gen. Jim Amos, and his legal advisers manipulated the military justice process to ensure they were punished harshly. A Pentagon investigation did not substantiate those claims.
News of Richards' death shocked those close to him. Joseph Chamblin, who tapped Richards' to be the sniper platoon's team leader in 2011, called his friend "one of the best snipers I ever knew."
"He was a good guy," Chamblin said, "and would do anything for his friends."
James Clement, who like Chamblin was prosecuted as a result of the urination video, described Richards as "a magnificent Marine leader." Clement, who was separated from the service as a captain, served as the executive officer of Kilo Company, 3/2. Richards death, Clement said, is a "terrible tragedy."
"Rob was a tenacious warrior who endured three combat deployments, losing brothers in all, and nearly giving his own life on one. Despite grievous physical and emotional wounds, Rob never fled, and never surrendered," Clement said. "...My prayers are with his wife Raechel and all of his family and friends — their unwavering support of Rob is an example to us all. It is important that all future Marines remember Rob for who he was as a man, husband and Marine."
Marine Corps officials at the Pentagon also provided a statement.
"We are aware of reports regarding the tragic passing of retired Marine Cpl. Robert W. Richards," said Maj. John Caldwell, a spokesman. "We offer our deepest condolences to his family and friends."
Richards chose to deploy with 3/2 — his final combat tour — despite the injuries he sustained in 2010 after detonating an improvised explosive device. His foot was nearly severed, and he suffered extensive shrapnel wounds to his throat. Those injuries affected Richards years later, he told Marine Corps Times in 2013, shortly before medically retiring from the Corps.
During Richards' legal proceedings, Womack said the scout sniper's decision to return to combat following that ordeal spoke to the Marine's character. He was the type of Marine others dreamed of being, Womack said. Few Marines would have the courage, after nearly dying on the battlefield, to look at their wife and say, "I'm going back."
Richards despised being at the center of the controversy resulting from the video, he told Marine Corps Times last year. He expressed remorse only for causing hardship for other Marines in his unit.
"When you're under that much stress and in that environment, your whole mental being changes," Richards said then. "You're no longer Joe the Family Man. You're a warrior, and if you read back to biblical wars and wars since the dawn of time, men have been doing this to men for millennia."
Richards is expected to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery with military honors, Womack said. Complete arrangements are pending.