Associated Press Writer
LUDOWICI — A former soldier wanted her four children to grow up and kill for a Georgia militia group that she and other active-duty Army troops organized to plot bomb attacks in nearby Savannah and poison apple crops in Washington state, a prosecutor said in court Thursday.
Heather Salmon, 29, handled the militia’s finances and recorded herself saying she looked forward to the time when the group could carry out its plans, prosecutor Isabel Pauley told a Superior Court judge weighing bond for the woman in Long County.
“At one point the defendant expresses that she can’t wait for things to begin,” Pauley said. “She only wishes her children could graduate from college before joining the militia and killing people.”
Judge Richard L. Russell III denied bond for Salmon. She is charged with murder and related crimes in the December 2011 slayings of Michael Roark, a former member of her husband’s Army unit, and his teenage girlfriend, Tiffany York. Prosecutors say the couple was led into the woods and shot to protect the militia group, which was led by active-duty soldiers stationed at nearby Fort Stewart.
In her first court appearance since being indicted last August, Salmon pleaded not guilty to all charges Thursday. Her attorney, Charles Nester, noted that Salmon wasn’t even present during the killings. A soldier who pleaded guilty to reduced charges last year, Pfc. Michael Burnett, testified that Salmon kept his son at her house while he and three others led the victims to the woods where they were killed.
“I don’t think they have any evidence at all to show she was there,” Nester said. “If anything, she’s being charged as being a party to the crime.”
But prosecutors say Salmon had a role in planning the killings. Her husband, Army Pvt. Christopher Salmon, is charged with shooting 19-year-old Roark twice in the head as he was forced to kneel on the ground. They say another soldier, Sgt. Anthony Peden, shot and killed York, who was 17. Both are accused of acting under orders from Pvt. Isaac Aguigui, whom prosecutors say was the militia group’s leader.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against all three soldiers.
Heather Salmon faces life in prison if convicted. Her Army record shows she served in the National Guard for two years before enlisting full-time in 2006. She served one tour in Iraq before the Army discharged her in April 2010.
Pauley told the judge Salmon was kicked out of the military after she fired a gun at her husband on Fort Stewart and was later charged with abusing drugs.
Salmon became one of the leaders of the group that called itself F.E.A.R., for Forever Enduring Always Ready, and other members called her “Momma Rae,” Pauley said. Prosecutors say the group stockpiled more than $87,000 worth of guns and bomb components and had members sell drugs and commit burglaries and car break-ins to help finance itself.
Salmon was the member in charge of the group’s accounts, Pauley said.
Prosecutors have said in court the group planned to bomb a park fountain in Savannah, poison apple crops in Washington state, seize control of Fort Stewart and ultimately assassinate the American president. However, none of the suspects have been charged with plotting acts of terrorism.
Salmon’s attorney declined to comment on allegations related to Salmon’s involvement with the group. But Nester urged the judge to grant Salmon bond so that she could reunite with her children, who are staying with her father in Washington state. He said Salmon would bring the children to Savannah to live with her and her mother.
Pauley argued Salmon posed a flight risk and was a potential threat to the victims’ families as well as to members of the group who have pleaded guilty and are cooperating with prosecutors. The judge agreed.
“I’m so thankful that she did not get out,” said Brenda Thomas, the mother of the slain girl. “She wanted to be reunited with her children? I want to be reunited with my Tiffany.”