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Veteran Convicted in Killings

November 26, 1997

LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) _ Richard Keech witnessed hundreds of deaths during World War II and endured three years in Japanese prisoner-of-war camps. Now he may spend his life behind bars, convicted of killing his son-in-law in a shooting he blamed on a flashback to his war days.

Jurors convicted Keech of murder Tuesday. He could get 35 years to life when sentenced Jan. 20.

Prosecutors said Keech, 77, concocted the story that post-traumatic stress disorder led him to kill his daughter’s estranged husband. Keech had said he thought he was shooting a Japanese guard when he shot Nicholas Candy, then chased him down and fired four more bullets into the fallen man.

Defense attorneys said they would appeal, and that Keech offered few words about the verdict. ``He’s rather stoical,″ said lawyer Ed George.

Alternate juror Thomas R. Kennedy believed Keech’s testimony about the horrors of World War II, but said Keech still deserved the first-degree murder conviction.

``He followed him down the street and shot him four more times in the back,″ said Kennedy, 26 and a former Marine.

Candy, 47, had come to the Keeches’ home to get his 14-month-old son for a court-arranged visit on May 21, 1996.

When the two men argued, Keech said he ``snapped″ and went for the gun in his waistband, flashing back more than 50 years to the Philippines, where he was a Marine in prisoner of war camps and saw hundreds die.

``I suddenly feel I’d killed a Jap guard,″ Keech testified Oct. 10. ``I guess I go back in my mind somewhere. I realize if you wound a Jap guard, you’re a dead man. I go on autopilot. Since you’re a dead man, you may as well kill him.″

The trial featured expert testimony about post-traumatic stress disorder. Symptoms include flashbacks, a numbing of the senses, angry outbursts and sleep and concentration problems.

Some experts said it is possible for retirees to experience the symptoms when their thoughts are free from focusing on work. Keech was a Rockwell International Corp. purchasing agent until retiring about 15 years ago.

The rare cases in which post-traumatic stress have worked as a defense generally involved an insanity plea. But Keech did not claim insanity.

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