Soldier of Misfortune
Claims of a cover-up in the killing of a metro Detroit man in Iraq
Published: June 6, 2012
Although not named in the suit, the U.S. State Department, which investigated the killing, is part of the cover-up, says the family and its attorneys.
Asked to respond, a spokeswoman for the State Department sent Metro Times an e-mail expressing its "deepest sympathies" for Pope's families, but directed us to seek the answers to our questions in the court files.
Included in those files are both the official account of the homicide, as well as testimony and numerous letters from both family and friends of the victim and killer.
What follows is an account of what happened based on interviews with Pope's family and the court documents themselves.
The family first learned that something bad had happened to Justin when his wife, Ashley, received a call from a DynCorp employee around 5:30 p.m. Detroit time on March 4, 2009.
Now 29, she and Justin met while attending church in the downriver community of Riverview when they were both 15. They married in 2003, just after Justin graduated from Marine boot camp.
After leaving the Marines in 2006 and going to work for DynCorp, Justin's salary jumped more than sevenfold, from around $25,000 a year to about $180,000, and they were able to buy a spacious home on a large, wooded lot in an upscale Commerce Township subdivision.
That's where she was when that first call came in, informing her that Justin had been in an "accident" — and that it was serious. A second call informed them that he'd been shot in the "neck," and that he'd been airlifted by helicopter to a hospital. A third call brought the news that Justin had died.
Those three calls came within a span of several hours.
Around 2:30 a.m. the next day, two women arrived at Ashley's home where family members had gathered. They were Anne Boffo and her daughter Natalie, who had driven up from their home in Ohio.
Natalie was Kyle Palmer's fiancée, and the couple had socialized with Ashley and Justin when they all lived in Jacksonville, N.C., where the guys were stationed at Camp Lejeune.
Anne Boffo's husband and Natalie's father, Michael Boffo, is a former Marine who, at the time, was project manager for DynCorp International's protective services unit in Iraq. According to court records, he supervised a group of 151 people. Included in that number were Kyle Palmer and Justin Pope.
According to Ashley, it was through their connection to Michael Boffo that Kyle and Justin went to work for DynCorp. Ashley tells Metro Times that Kyle had two previous drunk driving arrests that had to be expunged from his record before the company would hire him. Mention of those arrests is also in the court file, contained in a letter written by Justin's sister, Kristin. When the Boffos arrived, Ashley didn't yet know it was Palmer who had shot and killed her husband. In fact, other than learning that he'd been shot, she had no information about how he died. Traumatized by the news her husband had just died, she suffered an emotional breakdown, going to her bedroom and staying there for days.
Asked in an interview with Metro Times if she thought it odd that Anne and Natalie would rush to be with her upon learning of Justin's death, Ashley says that, at the time, she was too distraught to give their presence any thought at all.
"I was in shock that whole time, she says. "Everything from then is just a blur."
Besides, she says, "everyone loved Justin." They were there, she thought, only to give support and comfort.
The next to arrive was DynCorp employee Mike Kehoe (also spelled Keho in some court records.), who'd flown to Michigan from Iraq. Ashley says Kehoe initially told her that Justin was alone in his room when he died.
"He asked me if Justin had been depressed about anything," Ashley recalls.
The implication, she says, was that Justin might have committed suicide.
No one in his family believed that to be remotely possible.
Then the story changed, says the family. Justin was cleaning his weapon, they were told, and it accidentally misfired. Family members say they immediately dismissed that possibility as well. Justin, they say, had an intense concern regarding firearm safety.
"You have to understand the kind of person Justin was," says his stepfather, Bill Salser.
In a letter to the federal judge presiding over the Palmer case, Salser, in part, wrote in December 2009:
"To start out this letter I feel I need to start 18 years ago when I met Justin's mom. Justin was just seven years old. From the day that I met Justin at that age already [he] had his mind made up that he was going to be a police officer or a Marine. He already knew that he was going to put a change in people's lives no matter what. The special bond that I am referring to is that I was a police officer and that is one of the things he wanted to be. Justin and I would talk about all the cases that I had been on and all of the excitement of being an officer. Justin one day came up to me and asked me to be his partner. That hit me like a ton of bricks. Could you imagine, a seven-year-old boy asking you to be his partner and not being his biological dad. I told him YES I sure would. I then gave him one of my police wallets with my badge and ID.
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