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Iraq War Vet in Murder Case Found Dead; Faced Other Charge

Feb 26, 2010 – 6:54 PM
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LOS ANGELES (Feb. 26) -- A decorated Iraqi combat veteran from California was found dead near Tucson, Ariz., last week as authorities sought his arrest in an assault while he was free on $1 million bond on earlier charges he had murdered his girlfriend.

The former soldier, John Wylie Needham, 26, of San Clemente, Calif., had been described by family and friends as an easygoing surfer before he entered the U.S. Army in 2006. He was deployed to Iraq, where he earned the Purple Heart after suffering shrapnel wounds, and returned home a troubled man, which he wrote about on his MySpace page.
John Wylie Needham
Orange County Sheriff's Department, AP
John Wylie Needham was arrested in 2008 for allegedly killing his 19-year-old girlfriend. He was found dead in Arizona last week.

"I'm falling apart by the seams it seems the days here bleed into each other I have to find the will to live," Needham wrote on the page, which has since been taken down. "These walls are caving in my despair wraps me in its web, I feel I'm sinking in, throw me a lifesaver throw me a life worth living."

Needham was arrested in September 2008 after police, responding to a domestic violence call at his condo, found him naked and covered with blood, his badly beaten girlfriend, Jacqwelyn Joann Villagomez, in a nearby room. She died a short time later in a hospital. Police said they had to use a Taser to subdue Needham, described as 6 feet, 1 inch tall, and weighing 210 pounds.

The killing stunned Needham's family, and the case attracted national attention as they sought to link his turn to violence to his military experience.

"I can't see him doing this," a brother, Mike Needham, told the Los Angeles Times just after the killing. "I know he went through a lot in Iraq. But this is just not him. ... You can't believe how happy he was until he came back from Iraq."

According to Orange County court records, Needham was one of two men who went to a Newport Beach condominium last July and allegedly beat a man whose car they had come to repossess. But the two men apparently got the address wrong, said Susan Schroeder, spokeswoman for the Orange County District Attorney's Office.

The victim initially identified another Needham brother, Matthew, as one of the assailants. The other alleged attacker was a more distant relative, Schroeder said.

But court records say the brother told police in January that John Needham, whom he resembles physically, was the assailant. The victim then identified the former soldier by tattoos on his arms. Schroeder did not know whether investigators believe the first brother was covering for Needham, or why he waited so long to inform them that they had the wrong brother.

A request that John Needham's extradition be sought was filed Feb. 18, and court records say investigators believed he was staying with his mother in Sahuarita, just south of Tucson. The mother found Needham dead the next day. The cause of death remains unknown. "It's a medical examiner's case," said Sahuarita Police Sgt. Alex Droban. "There were no signs of suspicious circumstances."
Filed under: Nation, Crime
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