Defense attorneys hoping to save former U.S. soldier Steven Green from the death penalty presented witnesses Thursday who described Green’s childhood as troubled and stressful.
Green was convicted last week in U.S. District Court in Kentucky of murder, rape, conspiracy and obstruction of justice. A jury found Green guilty of raping a 14-year-old girl, then killing her and setting her body on fire to destroy evidence. Green also was found guilty of killing the girl’s parents and 6-year-old sister. He could become the first former U.S. soldier to get the death penalty for war crimes before a civilian court, where he was tried because he had been discharged from the military before his crimes came to light. Four other former soldiers are in prison for their roles in the crimes and the cover-up that followed. Testimony in the sentencing phase focused Thursday on Green’s early years, with witnesses describing him as the middle child of a dysfunctional west Texas family, unwanted by his mother and routinely beaten to the point of injury by his older brother. Clinical social worker Jan Vogelsang, testifying for the defense, said she interviewed the defendant’s immediate relatives and studied his family history. Vogelsang characterized Green as the attention-starved second son among three siblings. Family members told her that he “became the child that was odd and different,” she said. According to Vogelsang, Green’s mother, Roxanne, worked at a bar for most of his early years in the town of Midland, Texas. His mother jokingly called him “demon spawn” throughout his childhood, while she referred to his older brother as “the golden child,” Vogelsang said.
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“She often repeated that had Steven been born in Colonial times, she would be able to take him outside the village and stone him,” Vogelsang said. His parents split up by the time Green was 4. After he moved from Midland with his mother and her new husband, he was diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder at 9 and put on an anti-depressant drug, Vogelsang said, adding that she questioned whether his mother properly administered the medication. She noted that Green’s standardized test scores reflected a bright child with “considerable intellectual ability.” But she said Green’s mother had no interest in parenting and it fell to Green’s older brother to take on the role of disciplinarian. Three years older and significantly bigger, the brother once beat Steven Green to the point ‘his head swelled like a pumpkin,” according to testimony. Vogelsang pointed out that Green appeared to respond well to the discipline of military life. His family members at the time noted “he was a changed man” in the Army. After returning from Iraq, Green lived with various relatives. A cousin, Suzi Woolsey, testified that Green briefly stayed with her. His appearance after returning from the war was shocking, she said. He was thin and his eyes had sunk into his head. He had few clothes, ate little and spent much of the week at her house watching late-night television. He played with her 2-year-old daughter, Woolsey said, and Woolsey recounted a trip to visit Green in jail after his arrest. Her daughter, by then 3, went with her and, when they met, Green was wearing shackles. The child asked about the restraints, and Green told her, “Well, I run really, really fast,” Woolsey said. The trial resumes Monday in the U.S. District Court of western Kentucky.