Still suffering Iraq war's horrors, ex-Marine admits drowning girlfriend in Tooele
By Stephen Hunt
The Salt Lake Tribune

Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated:08/14/2007 11:54:29 AM MDT

TOOELE - A former Marine who was discharged after suffering emotional trauma in the Iraq war admitted today that he drowned his girlfriend last year.

Walter Smith, 26, pleaded guilty to manslaughter, a second-degree felony, in the March 24, 2006, drowning of 22-year-old Nicole Speirs, who died in the bathtub of the couple's home in Tooele.

In exchange for his guilty plea, prosecutors reduced the original charge of first-degree felony murder. According to Deputy Tooele County Attorney Gary Searle, Speirs' family had no objections to the plea bargain.

Smith faces one to 15 years in prison when he is sentenced Oct. 9 by 3rd District Judge Mark Kouris.

Smith originally told officers that he and the couple's twin infants returned home about 1 a.m. from a family gathering in Idaho to find water running in the bathtub and Speirs underwater.

A medical examiner's report at the time was inconclusive as to whether Speirs' death was an accident or homicide, so police kept the case open.

Then, more than eight months later, Smith - a former Marine Reserve officer and Iraq war veteran - confessed to drowning the woman, according to court documents.

During a Dec. 4 visit to the Veterans Affairs hospital in Salt Lake City, Smith, 26, told an uncle, "I did it," and later talked about his role to police, according to court documents.

Searle in March obtained an order to exhume Speirs' body for further examination, but it showed no new evidence, the prosecutor said today.

According to fellow Marines, Smith had trouble coping with the aftermath of his 2003 tour of duty in Iraq, to the extent that he had trouble pointing a rifle during weekend drills.

Smith was ultimately discharged from the Marine Corps for post-traumatic stress disorder, a disability, said defense attorney Matthew Jube.

The attorney said Smith witnessed "more trauma than many soldiers" during his war experience.