Donald V. Watkins
Solving The Murder of Army Private LaVena Johnson
Updated: Sep 5, 2022
By Donald V. Watkins
©Copyrighted and Published (via Facebook) on December 23, 2016; Updated and Republished on February 27, 2018
In January and February 2016, I published an exclusive series of articles that solved the July 19, 2005 murder of Army Private LaVena Johnson on a military base in Balad, Iraq. I updated and republished these articles during the past three days.
Next to securing a full and complete pardon in 1976 for Clarence Norris (the last known surviving “Scottsboro Boy”), my work in solving Private Johnson’s murder has been the second most satisfying accomplishment in my 45-year legal career. When I read an article three years ago about Private Johnson’s tragic death, I immediately knew something was not right about the circumstances surrounding her death. I vowed that I would use my extensive legal and investigative skills in solving murders and cover-ups committed by officials in uniform to solve Private Johnson’s mysterious homicide.
Private Johnson’s Death was a Murder, Followed by a Pentagon Cover-Up
Between the physical and forensic evidence in Iraq, the post-exhumation autopsy in the U.S., a personal notepad kept by Private Johnson, and the litany of cover-up activities at the Pentagon, all of the pieces of evidence needed to solve Private Johnson's homicide case were hiding in plain sight, albeit scattered in two countries that are nearly 7,000 miles apart.
Based upon the totality of evidence, my investigative team established the following core facts: (a) Private Johnson did NOT kill herself, as the Army has claimed; she was murdered, execution-style; (b) the murderer was General Kevin P. Byrnes: (c) the murder weapon was Byrnes’ 9MM pistol; (d) the M16 rifle “found” at the crime scene was not the one issued to Private Johnson; (e) Private Johnson’s fingerprints were not on the M16, which was “planted” at the scene after her death; (f) nobody’s fingerprints were on the M16 even though it was touched by one or more first responders; (g) there was no gun powder residue on Private Johnson's hands; (h) General Byrnes continued his extramarital affair with a female contractor after he received a direct ordered from the Army's Chief of Staff to end it; (i) Private Johnson inadvertently encountered General Byrnes engaging in the very romance he had been ordered to stop; (j) Private Johnson’s discovery of Byrnes’ continued adultery left him startled, afraid, and desperate; (k) General Byrnes snapped and became violent toward Private Johnson, who did not fight back because she was as shocked as he was and because Byrnes was her TRADOC commander; (l) Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was briefed by Army officials on General Byrnes' role in Private Johnson's murder; (m) Rumsfeld and the CENTCOM general for Iraqi Operations subsequently gave President George W. Bush a classified briefing about Private Johnson’s murder and the situation with General Byrnes; and (n) Rumsfeld fired Byrnes as an Army general three weeks after Private Johnson's murder and three months prior to his scheduled retirement date.
For more than a decade, the military was able to successfully cover up Private Johnson’s murder by classifying her death as a matter of national security. The investigative files in Private Johnson’s case remain sealed.
The military has never disputed any of the material facts presented in my published articles. This is understandable because these facts were based upon physical and forensic evidence, autopsy reports, crime scene photos, morgue x-rays, the redacted U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command files, and a plethora of other credible information garnered from sources inside and outside the Pentagon.
General Kevin P. Byrnes was unmasked as Private Johnson’s murderer on February 14, 2016. Since that time, he has NOT demanded a retraction of the published facts about his involvement in Private Johnson's death. Likewise, General Byrnes, who lives in Huntsville, Alabama, did NOT file a defamation lawsuit against me during the applicable two-year statute of limitations period under Alabama law.
Instead, the federal government, at the urging of a powerful U.S. Senator and the Pentagon, unleashed a full-scale, coordinated assault on my character and personal integrity using the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Internal Revenue Service, and other federal and state agencies with regulatory authority and law enforcement powers to carry out its campaign of harassment and retaliation. This blitzkrieg approach is a throwback to the COINTELPRO era (from 1956 to 1971) where the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, and other federal and state agencies worked aggressively to smear, discredit, and punish advocates for social justice and civil rights activists in America. None of these government-sponsored acts of harassment and retaliation has stopped me from reporting the truth about “The Murder of Pfc LaVena Johnson”.
Private Johnson Did Not Deserve to Die This Way
Private Johnson was only 19-years-old at the time of her murder. She was not a military intelligence officer. She was not killed carrying out a covert military operation against dangerous terrorists in Iraq.
Private Johnson’s death was not an accident or a suicide. She was not killed by friendly fire.
Private Johnson was not a spy for a foreign power who was killed by American soldiers to protect the potential exposure of “top secret” military information in a war zone.
Private Johnson was executed at point-blank range solely because she stumbled upon General Byrnes while he was engaging in prohibited extramarital conduct in contravention of a lawful order from a superior officer.
By all accounts, Private Johnson was a great soldier and a wonderful human being. She was ready and willing to die for her country on the battlefield, but she was not prepared to become a murder victim at the hands of one of her commanders.
Private Johnson did not deserve to die this way -- alone, unprotected, murdered, and betrayed by her country’s top military brass. May her soul rest in eternal peace while her family, friends, and supporters seek criminal justice for her murder.
To read the prior articles in this series, please click on article 1, article 2 and article 3.
PHOTO: The Johnson Family lays Private LaVena Johnson to rest after her murder in 2005.
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