Marine Cpl. Robert Richards, a retired combat veteran of the war in Afghanistan, was found dead in his North Carolina home Wednesday night, those close to his family have confirmed. Richards was one of four Marines filmed urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban fighters in 2011 in a controversial video that was later anonymously posted to YouTube.
Guy Womack, a lawyer who represented Richards in his subsequent legal battles with the Marine Corps, confirmed his death with the Washington Post Thursday. Womack said the death did not appear to be a suicide. Richards was 28.
The video, which was posted in January 2012, made international news. It led to Richards being reduced from sergeant to corporal after a plea deal in 2013, according to the New York Daily News.
Richards deployed to Afghanistan three times as a Marine Corps sniper. He was wounded by shrapnel on his second deployment in 2010, when an improvised explosive device was detonated near him while on a foot patrol. After undergoing six surgeries to repair wounds to his throat, he agreed to return for a third tour.
It was during that deployment that he and three fellow Marines were filmed urinating on the dead Taliban soldiers. The Marine who filmed the act was later killed and the video fell into the hands of another Marine who posted it.
“It was really devastating and we didn't know that it'd get in the hands of a traitor in my opinion. Not a traitor but a coward as well that would potentially try to destroy us and the Maine Corps by releasing it selfishly,” Richards later said in an interview.
For his part in the video Richards faced a court-martial. The plea deal negotiated for him by Womack allowed him to avoid a bad-conduct discharge and to keep his medical benefits. He pleaded guilty to failing to obey a lawful order and violating Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, an acknowledgement that he failed to maintain good order and brought discredit to the U.S. military.
Richards later said that he regretted the negative attention he brought to the Marine Corps but said his behavior was influenced by the desecration of the body of a fellow Marine by insurgents a few weeks prior.
“When you’re under that much stress and in that environment, your whole mental being changes. You’re no longer Joe the Family Man,” he said. “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.”
Former Marine Corps Capt. James Clement who served with Richards spoke highly of his service.
“Rob was a tenacious warrior who endured three combat deployments, losing brothers in all, and nearly giving his own life on one,” he said. “Despite grievous physical and emotional wounds, Rob never fled, and never surrendered.”
Clement was also disciplined by the Marines for his involvement with the video’s release although he was not present when it was filmed.
“It is important that all future Marines remember Rob for who he was as a man, husband and Marine,” he added.
Richards is survived by his wife, Raechel Richards.The two were in the process of selling their home and moving back to their home state of Florida.