IN THE COURTROOM AS KILLER
Three of the female officers in the jury box wiped away tears as the court-martial panel, deciding the fate of former Army LTC David Bartlett Jr. in the beating death of his wife at Carlisle Barracks, Pa. last March, heard him confess to the murder.
At his sentencing in a Fort Meade, Md. courtroom on October 30, 2002, the one-time research analyst got 25 years at the military prison in Leavenworth, Kan. and dismissal from the service. But Bartlett could be a free man much sooner than that. The veteran of 24 years in the Army could have received the death penalty or life in prison without parole if his defense attorneys had not worked out a deal to spare the family and the Army from more bad publicity in the sensational murder case.
Under the plea bargain worked out, Bartlett will be eligible for parole after serving only one-third of his prison term. Thus the killer colonel of Carlisle Barracks could be out of the pen in as little as eight years.
By admitting his guilt and testifying that he snapped after years of alleged bullying and browbeating by his wife Suzanne, the 46 year-old colonel, who resembles a sort of sad-faced Howdy Doody, was able to avoid worse punishment.
The brutal beating death of popular Suzanne Bartlett, 39, had shocked and repulsed the Carlisle Barracks community ever since her husband had been arrested in the sensational slaying.
But it was a different portrait of what went on in the Bartlett household a home life from hell - that may have resulted in the relatively light sentence.
Courtroom observers were shocked to hear the murder victims sister, Deborah Smist, testify that Suzanne got mad at insignificant things and was disrespectful and demeaning at times to her wimpy husband. Mrs. Smist said that everything in the house had to be perfect or she (Suzanne) would get upset, and related one instance where her sister allegedly screamed at her hubby about a Coke can out of place that he was not responsible for.
Mrs. Smist now has custody of the Bartlett children, all less than ten years old, which may have had some bearing on her sympathetic testimony.
As part of the deal at sentencing, Bartlett was able to designate his last six months of active-duty pay to his three children, who were sleeping upstairs in bed while the fatal fight broke out on the first floor below.
The lenient sentence was also influenced by testimony from a defense psychiatrist, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Gerald Donovan, who described the admitted killer as having a dependent disorder.
The colonel had avoidant personality traits that compelled him to always comply with his wifes demands, Donovan said. The Navy shrink painted a portrait of a man totally dominated by a super-achiever wife.
In a MilitaryCorruption.com exclusive, we interviewed a childhood friend of Bartlett from Concord, New Hampshire, where the pals grew up.
I went to high school with David . . . and was good friends with him then, he said. We were normal kids. I remember he had a steady girlfriend for five years who was the track coachs daughter. She was the type youd want to bring home to your mother. I detected no evil or mean tendencies in David at that time.
The friend told us he stayed in touch with Bartlett while the officer was stationed at Fort Devens, Mass. and attended his first wedding in 1981. It didnt last too long, the friend told MilitaryCorruption.com. As I recall, she left him within a year or so while they were stationed in Germany for an Air Force officer.
Bartlett, a onetime Sunday school teacher at a Carlisle, Pa. church, wept at times as he testified that his wife caught him looking at porno on their home computer.
The lieutenant colonel, who had already put in for retirement, was attempting to land a teaching job at a local high school. He said when Suzanne screamed she was going to tell his potential employers about the porno, that triggered the rage that resulted in him beating his wifes face to a bloody pulp and strangling her to death with a computer cord.
Bartlett maintained the reason he was looking at the dirty pictures was due to the overwhelming stress and despair I was feeling. Maybe so.
But theres no excuse for depriving the Bartlett children of their mother. They will grow up knowing that their father killed and mutilated their mom in a towering rage that even hard-bitten investigators cringed to describe.