A reported case in Marana centered on the murder of a young man two years ago at the hands of a friend. But it was never disclosed until now that the killer is an Army veteran.
25-year-old Cody Clark is sitting behind bars after being sentenced in February to 25 years to life in prison. His mother is speaking out for the first time since the arrest on what she calls a troubling trend that’s often ignored -- veterans who commit violent crimes.
Terra Clark, Cody's mother, wants to make it clear. She's not coming forward seeking sympathy for her son. Cody murdered a man -- devastating his family. She said her son must pay the price and Cody agrees.
Terra said she desperately tried to get help for her son, who is a combat soldier, months before the murder -- her claims confirmed in Cody’s medical records, which she obtained after being granted power of attorney. And now she's speaking out in hopes of preventing a tragedy like this from happening again.
REPORTS OF A “ROUTINE” MURDER
It was a murder case that wrapped up quickly.
In March 2015, Marana police found Cody Clark drunk and nearly naked in the backyard of a random house on the northwest side banging a 2X4 against landscaping lights. His clothes were covered in blood that clearly wasn’t his. Cody told the officers that he had no idea what happened or how he got there.
A short distance away in the desert near Cortaro Road and I-10, his 22-year-old friend, Austin Gann, is slumped over in the front seat of his PT Cruiser with a bullet wound in the back of the head.
Within a few hours, Marana police made the murderous connection during an interrogation at the Ina Road substation. Two detectives questioned Cody while he sat in his underwear and rested his cuffed hands on the table. After Cody told them he always carried a weapon, one detective divulged, “Your gun is found outside of Austin’s vehicle and Austin’s been shot in the back of the head.” As Cody lowered his head into his hands, he said, “No way, Oh, my God.”
He told detectives “he couldn’t remember anything” after a long night of heavy drinking. “I probably had seven or eight beers and anywhere from nine to 10 shots of liquor,” Cody recalled, “Vodka and rum.”
But as the interrogation continued, Cody’s seemingly foggy mind cleared with each passing minute and he eventually confessed to the crime.
Detective: “So you recall pulling your gun on him?”
Detective: “How many times did you shoot?”
Cody: “Ah. It had to have been twice, two shots.”
A jolt surged through Terra Clark after officers, who had asked for access to her son’s bedroom in the apartment the two shared, informed her Cody murdered a man. “They basically told me that Cody had taken him out to the desert and shot him execution style.” Words, she said, no mother ever wants to hear.
It took a moment to register what the officer told her – everything began to move in slow motion. She suddenly realized why officers were taking pictures inside her son’s bedroom. They were gathering evidence. Terra cried hysterically and remembered “not being able to stop.”
ONSET OF A “PERFECT STORM”
A family picture that sits on a shelf in Terra’s living room was taken just before Cody shipped off to war to join the 101st division in 2012. “We wanted to take a picture, God forbid, in case something happened and he didn't come home,” she said.
It was a 9 month infantry deployment in Afghanistan, where Cody had experienced "extensive combat exposures,” including IED (improvised explosive device) explosions, grenades, land mines, and a blow to the head that knocked him out. His military records show he conducted over 120 mounted combat patrols. A superior wrote “SPC Clark’s relentless work ethic inspired his peers to be well-trained and lethal, contributing greatly to his company’s success.” Cody was considered a “good soldier” and received numerous commendations, including NATO, Global War On Terrorism Service, and Army Good Conduct medals.
In the attorney’s office before the sentencing, Terra viewed the crime scene photos in private – the bloody clothes, liquor bottles, bullet hole in the windshield of the PT Cruiser, and Austin’s body. She cried for quite a while.
During the KGUN9 interview, she identified the picture of her son’s gun found at the crime scene. “It's got a special engraving from the military on one side. It says 101st.” She was referring to the 101st Airborne Division -- one of the most deployed and recognized units of the U.S. Army.
Terra said Cody, who came from a long line of military men, wanted to be a soldier since he was 9 years old and enlisted in the Army his senior year at Marana High School. “He never worked through high school,” said Terra, “He literally left 10 days after graduation for the Army. The army is all he knew.”
After serving 4 years, Cody made it back home alive, but he was not nearly the same man, who relatives described as once popular and happy -- always smiling and laughing.
It took less than a day for Terra to notice a disturbing dark shift in his demeanor. He had become more isolated, easily agitated and always armed. “He carried his loaded gun everywhere with him. That was his security blanket. He even slept with it next to his bed,” she said. In combat, soldiers are trained never to be without their weapons.
And Cody drank a lot – becoming a closet drinker as he struggled to find a job and readjust to civilian life. “You know they trained him wonderfully to go off to war. But nobody trained him once he came home. What do they do? He got depressed. He had so much anxiety. He drank every single day. All day long,” she said. After the arrest, detectives found several empty liquor bottles in his bedroom.
UNNOTICED: A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE
Cody returned home in August of 2014 and it didn’t take long for him to get into trouble. Over the course of two months, heavy drinking in local bars sometimes led to violent outbursts. Cody reported that he seriously injured several people in bar fights and pulled his weapon on several occasions when he felt threatened and outnumbered.
Terra never knew, but she worried about his downward spiral. She said she reached out to the Tucson VA many times. “I called them for the entire 9 months before the shooting. Asking for help. Begging for help. I did everything. I jumped through hoops. I called the crisis line to tell them something is wrong with my 23-year-old son and every single time I was told, ‘Ma’am, he’s an adult. There’s nothing you can do.’”
Three months before the murder, there was another explosive incident -- this time involving his family.
In a drunken rage, Cody drew his gun and threatened to kill his mother, sister, her boyfriend, and himself.
“Completely blacked out drunk at the time. There was nothing there. When Cody goes into one of these episodes everything is gone. There's no communicating with him. There's nothing you can tell by the look on his face. He's gone,” she gestured moving her hand across her face.
Terra dialed the VA Crisis Hotline. “I called them and said, ‘I'm in a crisis mode. I'm bringing him to you. What do I do with him? I need help right now.’ They said, ‘Oh, No. No. No. You can't bring him here’ and I said, ‘What am I supposed to do with him? He’s threatening to kill us and himself.’ And they said, ‘Ma’am, you need to call the Tucson police.’”
Terra called Tucson police and wanted her son committed for psychiatric evaluation. Officers hauled Cody to the Crisis Response Center. Terra told the staff that Cody suffers from “depression, anger, rage, nightmares, drinking heavily. Foul language and threats when he gets mad." All classic symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a term coined after the Vietnam War to describe the unique emotional strain of returning veterans.
Cody said he "drank heavily” about 7 to 8 beers and 4 shots of hard liquor. His alcohol level registered .138 - nearly twice the legal limit." He denied knowing what happened the night before and said he “only remembered waking up in the cop car.”
A TRAUMATIC TRIGGER
It was only after seeing his medical records that Terra discovered a traumatic trigger that could be behind her son’s extreme drunken behavior and violent outbursts.
He described to medical staff a haunting experience that gives him recurring nightmares at least once a week -- a horror he brought home from war that he never shared with Terra. “He did mention some things. Just bits and pieces and he had to be extremely intoxicated to talk about it and he would start crying and then I would start crying,” she said.
What he held back from Terra, but told the medical staff, which was noted in his records, “While in Afghanistan, he and another soldier were clearing a village when they encountered a 10-year-old boy holding an AK-47 trained on them. Both unloaded 3 to 4 rounds into the boy at close range, but later found out the AK-47 was not loaded."
Although soldiers are authorized to shoot in self-defense, Terra believes her son couldn’t cope with the guilt of killing an unarmed Afghan child. “I would hear him. His bedroom was on the opposite end of the hall compared to mine, but I would still hear him have nightmares screaming and stuff in his sleep.”
The traumatic incident wasn’t the only shocking discovery in his medical records. Cody denied any suicidal thoughts, but told staff "when provoked, he sometimes does have “homicidal thoughts towards people -- no one in particular.”
An alarming red flag, said Terra, and a frightening revelation since Cody lived with her, his sister and her two-year-old child. “He would not have come back with me or my daughter or grandson if I had known that he was that bad.”
The Crisis Recovery Center diagnosed Cody with PTSD. Staff was concerned Cody was downplaying and minimizing his PTSD symptoms and told Cody that PTSD does not go away, but can escalate. A crisis worker asked if Cody would be willing to be transferred to the VA Emergency Room by ambulance voluntarily in order to be evaluated by the VA for PTSD symptoms. Cody said he wanted to know who had his gun and wanted to go home, which he did. The Crisis Worker suggested to Terra that she should take Cody to the VA immediately.