According to Reuter’s article, Prosecutor says Iraq war vet killed transients for “thrill”, a 23 year-old Iraq War veteran, Itzcoatl Ocampo, has been chared with four counts of murder than include special circumstance allegations that make him eligible for the death penalty if he is convicted for the death of four Orange County homeless men. The crimes drew attention to the homeless population in Orange County, if only for a period of time, as it appeared the suspected killer targeted homeless people.
Some of the men who were killed were stabbed more than 50 times and video footage captured the killer dressed in dark clothes and he kneeled on on of the victim’s chests while stabbing him in the neck and upper torso. According to USA Today’s Man detained after homeless vet killed, one of the victims was a Vietnam War veteran.
The District Attorney is claiming that Ocampo engaged in a “thrill kill” and derived pleasure from the killings. I think he’s missing the mark. According to the www.veteransnewroom.com’s Fact Sheet, nearly 20% of the 300,000 of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are likely to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and those numbers continue to climb. In fact, in 2005, the Department of Veterans Affairs reported that PTSD was the fourth most common service-related disability that service members received benefits for. It is believed that an additional 320,000 returning veterans may have experienced traumatic brain injuries during deployment.
It is not simply ironic that an Iraq War Veteran killed a homeless Vietnam War Veteran. According to the National Coalition For Homeless Veterans, approximately 67,000 veterans are homeless every night. One cause is that a large number of homeless veterans live with the lingering effects of PTSD and substance abuse and lack family and social support resources.
Anyone who has provided social, legal, mental health or community services to a wide-scale population can tell you anecdotally that many have seen how PTSD and other mental health issues impact veterans. Ignoring the true impact of war is an injustice to service members and to the families and communities who support them. Yet it is hardly any wonder that this prosecutor, who is a figurehead in the local Republican party, refuses to even acknowledge the connection between war and mental health and has already characterized this case in this light.
Any thoughtful person has to wonder what evidence the DA will offer to support his theory that this was a “thrill kill.” You don’t have to be a psychologist to have doubts about this legal theory based on what we know about veterans coming back from Iraq. If the suggestion will be that this Iraq War veteran is somehow a dangerous war machine that must be put to death to be stopped from harming others, or even that he joined the military to commit violence as opposed to having witnessed it on the battlefield, I won’t be surprised, but I will be outraged.
Lauren K Johnson is a criminal defense attorney in Irvine, Calfornia and has represented many clients diagnosed with PTSD and other mental health issues.