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Denver - Army Spc. Brandy Fonteneaux's death came not on a battlefield in Afghanistan but on an infantry post in Colorado - allegedly at the hand of a fellow soldier - and that makes the pain even worse for her family.
The 28-year-old from Houston had been stabbed 74 times when she was found in her room in a Fort Carson barracks on Jan. 8, Army investigators said. Officials said she had also been choked.
"We could have taken this much better if Brandy had been killed in war," said Fonteneaux's aunt, Bevenley Thomas, who raised her from infancy. "But to be murdered here in the U.S. in your barracks in your sleep is just not right."
A court-martial is scheduled to start Monday for Sgt. Vincinte Jackson, an Army combat engineer charged with murder and premeditated murder in Fonteneaux's death.
If convicted, his sentence could range from life in prison with a chance for parole in as few as 10 years to life in prison without possibility of parole, Army officials said.
His attorneys declined to comment.
Jackson, an eight-year Army veteran from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., was 40 at the time of the killing. He was with the 576th Engineer Company, 4th Engineer Battalion. Fonteneaux was a food operations specialist in the 4th Engineer Battalion.
Authorities haven't publicly divulged any motive for the killing. There was no evidence Fonteneaux was sexually assaulted, Thomas said, although Army officials told the family some of her clothing had been removed or pushed up to her neck.
Fonteneaux knew Jackson but they were not close, Thomas said. Fonteneaux had told her family that Jackson confided in her about his crumbling marriage.
Thomas said she asked Fonteneaux if she and Jackson had a romantic relationship, and she replied, "No, Mom, he's married. He's too old."
"I know her like that," Thomas said. "We didn't have secrets."
Jackson deployed to Iraq for five months in 2005-06. He went to Iraq again in February 2009 for about two months and then was sent to Afghanistan for nearly a year. Jackson received the Purple Heart, but the details of his injury were unavailable.
Thomas, also from Houston, said Army officials told her family that Jackson did not show signs of post-traumatic stress at the time of the killing. She still wants the military to pay more attention to servicemen and women returning from combat deployments.
"I definitely want justice, but I also want them to look closer at our soldiers," she said. "The least we can do is to make sure that they are healthy and get themselves back into society."
"I don't understand what's going on out there (at Fort Carson)," she said.
Fort Carson officials say they recognize the effects of multiple combat deployments and have programs in place to help soldiers and their families at the post just outside Colorado Springs.
Mental health teams have been decentralized and placed within Fort Carson's major units to make it easier for soldiers to get help, the post said in a written statement. Nutritional counseling, fitness classes, therapy, child care and other services are also available.
At a pretrial hearing in May, prosecutors and defense lawyers both made an issue of Jackson's mental state, the Colorado Springs Gazette reported.
"Sgt. Jackson had a knife with him and he snapped," said Capt. Jeremy Horn, a defense lawyer. He said prosecutors have no evidence of premeditation.
Prosecutors said Jackson acted with deliberation and could recall the gruesome killing in detail.
Fonteneaux grew up in Houston nurtured by three sets of parents: Thomas, her aunt; Verona Fonteneaux, her biological mother and Thomas' sister; and her godparents.
"I asked my sister if I could raise Brandy," Thomas said. Thomas wanted a child but had suffered miscarriages, and Verona Fonteneaux had five children and financial problems, and needed help, Thomas said.
Brandy Fonteneaux had a nurturing personality herself, her mother and aunt said. When her track teammates at Texas Southern University grew discouraged, she would say, "Hey, let's just give it our best." As a food service specialist in the Army, she would withhold dessert from fellow soldiers facing a fitness test.
She got a degree in kinesiology from Texas Southern and then joined the Army in 2009 to help pay off college loans. All the while she remained close with her family. "She didn't grow up and get away. She grew up and became closer," Thomas said.
She spoke with her family daily by phone, text or Skype until Saturday, Jan. 7, when no one heard from her. The next day, the family asked Fort Carson officials to check on her, and she was found dead in her room.
Since then, it has been hard for her entire extended family, her mother and aunt said. Their houses are lined with photos of the young woman with her broad, beaming smile, and they feel her absence keenly at family gatherings.
"I have my days," Verona Fonteneaux said. "Some days I'm OK. Sometimes I sit and cry."