Robert W. Richards, a former sergeant who helped provoke international outrage when he and three other Marines were seen on videotape urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan in 2011, died on Wednesday at his home in Jacksonville, N.C., near Camp Lejeune, where he had once been based. He was 28.
His lawyer, Guy Womack, confirmed the death, saying there were no signs of foul play or self-inflicted wounds, The Associated Press reported. Mr. Womack said he suspected that a combination of medications that Mr. Richards had been taking for combat injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder contributed to the death.
Mr. Richards pleaded guilty at a court-martial at Camp Lejeune in August 2013 and was demoted to corporal. He was granted a medical retirement with an honorable discharge.
At the trial, one Marine testified that his comrades believed that the dead Taliban fighters had been responsible for the roadside bombing death of a platoon sergeant earlier that day. Eight Marines have been punished for their involvement in the episode.
The videotape surfaced in 2012 and was viewed worldwide on YouTube. One Marine could be seen looking down at the bodies and saying, “Have a good day, buddy.”
The incident was one of several in which American troops were photographed or videotaped defiling enemy corpses and burning Qurans. The episodes inflamed tensions in the Islamic world and were condemned in the West as well. Military officials expressed disgust, opened investigations and examined stress factors as contributing causes of the breaches of discipline.
“When you’re under that much stress and in that environment, your whole mental being changes,” Mr. Richards told the newspaper Marine Corps Times in 2013. “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.”
The incident happened during Mr. Richards’s third tour of duty in Afghanistan, for which he had volunteered. On his second tour, in 2010, he suffered a severe shrapnel wound to the neck when a roadside bomb was detonated, Marine Corps Times said. He underwent an emergency tracheotomy on the battlefield, and his foot was almost severed. He was awarded a Purple Heart. Mr. Richards, who was married, is expected to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. Information on his survivors was not available.