Murder defendant's mother testifies that Iraq war changed her son

FORT WORTH -- Vera knew something was wrong with her son, Eric Acevedo, in February 2006 when he returned from his second tour of duty in Iraq.

He slept very little and had nightmares when he did. He didn't try to hide his heavy drinking and constant arguments with his girlfriend, Mollieann Worden.

"A lot of bad things happened to Eric in Iraq," Vera testified Tuesday during Acevedo's capital murder trial for the March 21, 2008, stabbing death of Worden.

"He didn't care any more. There was something very, very wrong with my son," she said.

Defense psychologist James Womack is expected to testify Wednesday that Acevedo, now 23, was in a "dissociative state" caused by post-traumatic stress disorder when he killed Worden.

Acevedo also may testify.

Vera didn't know what caused the dramatic change in her son, but his Marine buddies - all gunners like Acevedo -- said they did.

Former Marine Jonathan Kuel testified that, during their first tour of Iraq in 2004, Acevedo was nicknamed "Papa Bear" for his ability to cheer other Marines up. During their 2005-2006 tour, however, Kuel said that Acevedo's best friend, David Mendez, was killed when his armored truck hit an explosive device.

Marine Christopher Padillo said Acevedo didn't witness his friend's fiery death, but he heard about it via radio transmissions between vehicles.

"He was devastated by it," Padillo said. "He thought he was responsible because he was denied permission to go to the scene and help him."

Kuel said Mendez's friends handled his death in different ways. Kuel was angry. Acevedo was sad. But none of the men sought psychological counseling for fear it would affect their future employment, Kuel said.

Vera had no such compunction. Worried about her son's mental state, she said she called his captain to beg that her son not be sent to Iraq a third time. The captain didn't respond to her concerns so Vera contacted her congressman and again pleaded "don't send him up. Get him medical help," she testified.

But Acevedo was sent to Iraq again in August 2006. When he returned in May 2007, Vera said he was angry with God and his stepfather, whom he blamed for Mendez's death.

"Right then I knew that Eric was not well," she said.

Ten months later, after a contentious relationship with Worden, Acevedo stabbed her 11 times in the neck, chest and abdomen. Nine wounds were fatal, a deputy medical examiner said.

Vera also testified that Acevedo's stepfather had abused her and Acevedo for years. On cross-examination, prosecutors questioned why Vera did not leave her husband, if he was abusive, and why she would not cooperate with prosecutors who had charged him with assaulting her.

Acevedo is on trial on capital murder charges because prosecutors say he broke into Worden's Saginaw home and killed her. Defense attorneys say Acevedo did not commit a burglary because his name was on the townhome lease. If anything, they contend, Acevedo is guilty of a less serious crime with a lighter sentence.

MARTHA DELLER, 817-390-7857