An Anchorage Superior Court judge Friday sentenced former Army Spc. Kip Lynch to 80 years in prison for killing his wife and infant daughter in April 2010, two months after returning from what soldiers in his unit testified was a hellacious tour of duty in Afghanistan.
Judge Michael Spaan said the Army could've done more to help Lynch, 22, cope with suspected emotional problems brought home from war.
A jury convicted Lynch last year for the deaths of 19-year-old Racquell and 8-month-old Kyirsta. Public defender Dan Lowery said the ex-soldier has accepted the verdict even though he doesn't remember shooting Kellie and Izzy, as they were known, multiple times with a .45-caliber pistol engraved to commemorate his deployment.
Lynch was deeply affected by the year spent fighting in two of the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010, Lowery said Friday during the second day of Lynch's sentencing hearing. Judge Spaan later agreed, to a certain extent, saying Lynch's experiences were probably a factor in the killings -- not an excuse and not the only factor -- and that the voluntary treatment offered by the military wasn't enough.
"You did serve your country, and you did so honorably and well," Spaan said. "And this country may have let you down."
Two members of Lynch's three-soldier team -- a close-knit group of friends and part of the 4th Brigade Combat Team based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson -- testified about their time together in Afghanistan, where they were stationed at two combat outposts near the country's border with Pakistan.
The enemy attacks came daily, said Sgt. Kevin O'Brien, starting off Friday's testimony.
"We counted it once, and we went two months getting attacked every day," O'Brien said. "There was no let-up. You weren't safe on the base, you weren't safe off the base."
A psychologist testified Thursday that Lynch might have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression from the yearlong deployment. The soldiers who spoke Friday said that among the 100 or so men they served with on that deployment, there were multiple suicides or suicide attempts afterward. Some were kicked out of the Army for drug or alcohol abuse. The Army released some for mental and emotional reasons, they said.
The soldiers showed signs of stress while in Afghanistan, O'Brien said. Some were getting gray hair or going bald, he said.
"You sort of flip a mental switch. You either live in fear of dying every day or you laugh it off. My team chose to laugh it off," O'Brien said. "We saw children killed in the crossfire, some from friendly fire, some from enemy fire. I saw more dead bodies than I can count."
"You just to shut those things out and decide to deal with it when you get home."
Lynch seemed to do fine under the stress and was a brave soldier and excellent marksman, O'Brien said. A soldier's first reaction to gunfire is usually to drop to the ground, and some want to stay there, but Lynch always jumped back up and moved forward when ordered into a firefight, he said.
"You call it 'embracing the suck.' Just going out there and embracing it. You can live with it and get stressed out by it, or you can embrace it and become it," O'Brien said. "He was somebody I wanted by my side all the time."
In one attack, rocket-propelled grenades started hitting the unit's trucks, followed by small-arms fire and mortars. Lynch had the presence of mind to find the spotter for the enemy mortars and called his commanders for help from an attack helicopter, O'Brien said.
"It saved a lot of lives by doing that," he said.
"DID YOU SEE IT COMING?"
Lynch and his wife had been in many arguments before the deployment, usually because she would put him down, O'Brien said. The fighting continued when Lynch returned from the deployment, and Lynch would say that he wanted to go back to Afghanistan.
"Her and Kip had a very volatile relationship, and she wasn't very nice to him. She was just mean," O'Brien said. "My impression was they were both young and shouldn't be together."
Lynch would shut down and just let her yell, O'Brien said. "But it didn't seem like it would result in this," he said.
O'Brien and fellow military police officer Sgt. Michael Diehm who also testified Friday were the ones who found the bodies of Lynch's wife and daughter, as well as a badly wounded Lynch, in the family's South Anchorage apartment.
"At any point after coming back, did you see it coming?" asked prosecutor Emma Haddix.
"No," O'Brien said.
"I didn't think that would happen to him. He seemed stronger than most people," Diehm testified later. "He was the most calm, laid-back guy I knew."
Diehm said that when Lynch and his wife fought, Lynch was usually the one to "disengage."
"That or he'd just take it," Diehm said.
O'Brien is headed back to Afghanistan in May, Diehm next month.
"THERE'S NO BIRTHDAY CARD TO SEND"
Later in the hearing, Racquell's mother, Christy Kulik, testified by phone from Florida. She had been unable to get to Anchorage due to flight cancellations from a winter storm in Seattle.
Kulik told Lynch that she still loved him and would continue to write him. She said her daughter would've turned 21 in 12 days.
"There's no birthday card to send or present to wrap, or phone calls," Kulik said. "Kip's entire family can visit him, write him letters. It's because of this very selfish act, by losing his temper, he took that away from me and my family."
Lynch did not deserve leniency, she said.
Prosecutor Gustaf Olson said Lynch's actions were not the result of a lack of impulse control but instead a thought-out plan to kill his wife. "This built up," he said.
After Lowery spoke, with Lynch glancing at his lawyer and blinking repeatedly, it was Lynch's turn to address the court.
"I accept full responsibility for what happened to my wife and daughter," he said, reading a letter he'd written. "I myself was once an enlisted soldier in the United States military, a guardian expected to protect them from danger, which I failed to accomplish."
"I lost a piece of my family that mattered the most. They brought love and in passing left us with pain," he said. "My love for Racquell and Kyirsta will always remain. They will forever be in my heart. I hope you all have the same mentality and outlook for yourselves but also for them."
"I'm asking for forgiveness from my entire family and friends, especially those closest to us, including this honorable court, my community and the state of Alaska."
The court then went into recess, with Spaan set to return at 1:30 p.m. with his sentence for Lynch. Under state guidelines, Spaan could've sentenced Lynch to a maximum of 198 years. State prosecutors asked for 109 years, with Lynch's defense requesting the minimum of 40.
Lynch's expression didn't change as the judge admonished him for the double murder, "a crime for no reason," Spaan said.
"You could've left, you could've walked away, you could've gotten divorced, you could've gotten a girlfriend. Those are different options that society tolerates," Spaan said. "But the option to kill them both was not an option that would be dismissed."
Prosecutors say Lynch will likely be eligible for parole when he's in his mid-70s.
Reach Casey Grove at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4589.