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  • Writer's pictureDonald V. Watkins

The Murder of Pfc LaVena Johnson – Part 3

Updated: Sep 6, 2022

By Donald V. Watkins

©Copyrighted and Published (via Facebook) on February 14, 2016,

Updated and Republished on February 26, 2018

Unmasking a Murderer

On July 19, 2005, Army Private First Class LaVena Johnson died on a military base in Balad, Iraq amidst mysterious circumstances. All of the physical and forensic evidence available to military investigators suggested she was murdered. However, these investigators shamelessly chose to disregard this glaring evidence and instead classified Private Johnson’s death as a suicide.

The totality of evidence surrounding Private Johnson’s execution-style murder strongly suggests that the person who killed her is former four-star Army General Kevin P. Byrnes. He was third in seniority among the Army’s eleven generals at the time. Byrnes, who was appointed to his command position by President George W. Bush in November 2002, headed the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (1st Cavalry Division), or TRADOC command. In this capacity, Byrnes supervised the recruitment and academic programs at thirty-three Army schools, from basic training to the war colleges.

Private Johnson met General Byrnes in July 2005, just a couple of days before her death. As fate would have it, Private Johnson wrote his name in her personal notepad and told her father about her one-on-one conversation with him. She had no way of knowing at the time that Byrnes (a) was engaged in an extramarital affair with a civilian female, and (b) had been ordered by General Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army’s Chief of Staff, to end the affair. Byrnes, who was married, willfully disobeyed Schoomaker’s order, and instead elected to make his love affair more clandestine. In doing so, Byrnes risked being court-martialed for disobeying Schoomaker’s lawful and direct order.

Extramarital affairs among military generals, while strictly prohibited by the military, are not unusual. Sometimes, these affairs lead to reckless, impulsive, and even criminal conduct as the participants do everything within their power to indulge in the affairs under a cloak of secrecy. The torrid love affair between General David Petreaus and his lover Paula Broadwell is a recent high profile example of this type of deceitful, reckless conduct, and criminal conduct.

Like Petreaus, General Byrnes’ TRADOC command gave him the means and opportunity to practice the deception that accompanied his adultery. Like Petreaus, Byrnes found ways to evade the Pentagon’s scrutiny of his extramarital affair, particularly after Byrnes was ordered to stop his affair. Byrnes’ illicit love affair came to light only after his unanticipated encounter with Private Johnson caused its exposure.

During the early morning hours of July 19th, Private Johnson inadvertently encountered General Byrnes engaging in the very romance he had been ordered to stop. She was alone at the time because the Army never assigned Private Johnson a “battle buddy” to accompany her around the base. Private Johnson’s discovery of Byrnes’ continued adultery left him startled, afraid, and desperate. 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.

During his assault on Private Johnson, Byrnes knocked some of her teeth backwards, broke her nose, fractured her neck, and inflicted other serious injuries on her body. Private Johnson was then dragged into a contractor’s tent where Byrnes staged the crime scene to make it look like Private Johnson had committed suicide.

At some pointed after Private Johnson was killed, an M16 rifle bearing Serial Number 7095028 was carefully arranged near her body. No M16 bullet was ever located because this weapon was never fired inside the tent. Instead, Byrnes fired one shot from his 9 MM pistol into the top left side of Private Johnson’s head, execution-style. Byrnes then lit a fire in the tent before leaving the scene.

Private Johnson’s fingerprints were not on the M16 found at the scene. There was no gunpowder residue on her hands. Inexplicably, the military did not test the M16 for traces of Private Johnson’s DNA. This M16 was not the one assigned to Private Johnson. Her M16 bore Serial Number 7097069 and was the only M16 ever issued to Private Johnson.

It was virtually impossible for Private Johnson, with a fractured neck and standing only 5’1”, to have had enough mobility left in her battered body to commit suicide by sticking a 40-inch M16 rifle into her mouth and pulling the trigger. Furthermore, the top and back areas of Private Johnson’s head were still intact after she was shot.

Kicking General Byrnes Out of the Army.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, in consultation with President George W. Bush, fired Byrnes on August 8, 2005, just three weeks after Private Johnson’s death and a mere three months shy of Byrnes’ scheduled retirement date. The Army announced that it had relieved General Byrnes of his command for unspecified "personal conduct." Pentagon sources leaked off-the-record information to the media that Byrnes was fired for disobeying General Schoomaker’s order to stop his extramarital affair.

On August 10, 2005, Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington published a story that focused on Secretary Rumfeld’s firing of General Byrnes. Huffington wrote:

“ [T]he Byrnes firing is stunning…. In modern times, no four-star general has ever been relieved of duty for disciplinary reasons; prior to this incident Byrnes had a spotless military record; he has been separated from his wife since May 2004; the allegations do not involve anyone under his command or connected to the DoD; and he was already set to retire in November…. Something doesn’t add up. Would the Army really can a four-star General with 36 years of service, three months shy of his retirement, because he screwed someone other than his wife… in the middle of a war? …. [T]here has to be more – much more—to this story than is being told.”

Arianna Huffington was right. The Pentagon learned that Byrnes had murdered Private Johnson. Instead of court-martialing Byrnes for disobeying Schoomaker’s lawful order and for murdering Private Johnson, President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld opted to kick Byrnes out of the Army three months prior to his scheduled retirement date.

The Pentagon Classified Private Johnson’s “Suicide” as a Matter of National Security

The “Investigation of Pfc LaVena Johnson’s death” was listed on the Pentagon’s 13-F-1107 Department Level Interest (“DLI”) List in 2013, even though her case had been “closed” for eight years. Private Johnson’s case was placed on the DLI List at the specific request of the Office of the Secretary of Defense (“OSD”) and Joint Staff (“JS)”.

The OSD and JS notified U.S. military agencies, branches, and divisions worldwide that any inquiry under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) regarding Private Johnson’s death must first be reviewed, approved, and cleared by the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff before sending a response to the requester. This directive elevated the death of Army Private Johnson to a matter of national security.

Private Johnson’s place on the DLI List was sandwiched between Request Number OSD/JS 10-F-C-0033 dealing with the “CENTCOM General meeting G.W. Bush – Iraq” and Request Number 11f0962 (OSD/JS) dealing with emails sent to and from the government account of Michael G. Vickers, the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence regarding the “U.S. operation in Pakistan against Usama bin Laden for the period 01 AUG 2010 to MAY 2011.” Furthermore, President George W. Bush received a classified briefing from Secretary Rumsfeld and the CENTCOM general for Iraqi Operations about Private Johnson’s death and the situation with General Byrnes.

Under the applicable Pentagon FOIA policy, a military matter would be placed on the DLI List and require clearance by the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff only if it: (a) had the potential to generate media interest, (b) was of “interest or potential interest to DoD senior leadership”, and (c) involved “current or previous DoD leadership." Private Johnson’s death investigation fell within this policy. The DLI List did not identify the “current or previous” member of the “DoD leadership” team who was involved in Private Johnson’s death.

In 2005, at least 83 soldiers committed suicide. Yet, Private Johnson’s death was the only one listed on the Pentagon’s 2013 DLI List.


To date, the military has not challenged the accuracy of the material facts presented in my exclusive three-part investigative series of articles on “The Murder of Pfc LaVena Johnson.” Instead, the government, at the urging of a powerful U.S. Senator and the Pentagon, has 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.

Today, General Kevin Byrnes lives a comfortable life in Huntsville, Alabama, where he works as a top executive for Raytheon. Absent an undisclosed Presidential pardon from George W. Bush, Byrnes' role in the murder of Private Johnson is subject to prosecution under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act of 2000.

Private LaVena Johnson is lying in a cold grave at the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis County, Missouri. The Pentagon’s files in her “suicide” case remain classified and sealed.

Please click on the links to read the prior articles in this series: Article 1 - Article 2

PHOTO: Private LaVena Lynn Johnson's grave at the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis County, Missouri.

PHOTO: Kevin Byrnes' "Wanted" Poster. He is currently subject to a citizen's arrest in the State of Alabama.

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Jul 21, 2020

I admire your bravery and standing up and speaking out. Lavena's death has weighed heavily on me for years with no justice, my soul will not fully rest until her killer is brought to full disclosed justice. I am so sorry what has happened to you Mr. Watkins as a result of you standing up..Truth crushed to earth shall rise again


Jul 02, 2019

I just viewed the documentary "The Silent Truth" this evening. I wish I would have known this a long time ago. I will be asking my family and friends to view this and to join your blog for updates. I am so glad you have joined this fight to keep our children safe from our own military. Accidents under fire where our "friendless" are killed cannot always be avoided. There is no excuse for our gallant "warriors" to be abused nor killed by other military matter what rank they may be. Keep up the good work. Prayers are with the Johnsons and all the other families that have been living with this horror.

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