Georgia soldier who used diet defense convicted of murder, gets life

SAVANNAH — A Georgia soldier who argued he shot a superior to death because a crash diet drove him to a violent state of delirium was convicted of premeditated murder Thursday by a court-martial.

Under military law, 30-year-old Staff Sgt. Rashad Valmont of Jonesboro gets an automatic life sentence. The only question left for the five-member military jury that convicted him is whether Valmont should ever be eligible for parole.

Valmont was convicted in the June 2010 slaying of Master Sgt. Pedro Mercado. Both men served in a medical administration unit of the Army Reserve stationed at Fort Gillem outside Atlanta.

Sentencing would come today at the soonest at Fort Stewart, where the trial was held in southeast Georgia.

After four days of testimony, jurors ultimately rejected Valmont’s defense — that he was dehydrated and delirious after a different supervisor ordered him to shed 3 percent of his body fat in a dangerously short period. His fiancee testified he skipped meals and put in extra hours at the gym and sauna, pushing his body to exhaustion.

‘‘This case was a tragedy because it was completely preventable,’’ said Tim Bilecki, one of Valmont’s civilian attorneys. ‘‘We believe the command really broke this soldier.’’

Two days after receiving written orders to drop the weight, Valmont left his work cubicle to retrieve a Glock handgun he kept in his car. He walked into Mercado’s office and shot him six times as a coworker watched in horror.

The coworker, Anthony Williams, testified that he asked Valmont why he’d shot Mercado. He said Valmont replied: ‘‘I’m tired of him. (Expletive) him.’’

Prosecutors did not immediately reply to an email seeking comment. During the trial, they argued that Valmont was exacting revenge for poor performance reviews by his supervisors. Coworkers testified he’d been working earlier in the week on a rebuttal of his most recent evaluation. Mercado had also recently denied his requests for leave and vacation time.

After the shooting, Valmont left the building without harming anyone else and drove to a nearby police station. Prosecutors said he told officers while turning himself in: ‘‘I just shot someone at Fort Gillem.’’