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Idaho soldier to face life in prison over alleged Afghan murder

Post by Adam Ashton / The News Tribune on Jan. 28, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
January 28, 2011 5:54 pm

The Army is moving forward with its case against the youngest of five Stryker soldiers accused of murdering civilians in Afghanistan last year while it awaits a decision from an appeals court about whether photos of the alleged victim should be released.

Pfc. Andrew Holmes, 20, of Boise, Idaho will face a court-martial where he could be sentenced to life in prison, the Army announced Friday.

He’s charged with murdering a noncombatant, participating in a conspiracy to harm Afghans, possessing a finger taken from an Afghan corpse and using drugs during his deployment with the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

His attorney has fought to force the Army to release images of the man Holmes allegedly killed during a January 2010 patrol and is awaiting a decision from the Court of Criminal Appeals for the Armed Forces about whether that evidence should have been considered at a pretrial hearing two months ago.

Dan Conway, Holmes’ attorney, argues that the images would show that Holmes didn’t shoot the man. The photos are being held at Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s Criminal Investigation Division out of concern that they could incite violence against American soldiers serving abroad.

Holmes appears in at least one photo posing with the January victim, according to court testimony.

“This entire process has really troubled me because the Army has treated this as a check in the box instead of Constitutional right. Combat soldiers deserve better,” Conway said.

The soldier’s father, Forest Holmes of Pocatello, Idaho, was surprised to hear that the Army was advancing the case before receiving a final decision from the appeals court. A lower appeals court earlier this month sided with the Army and chose to keep the images concealed.

“As a family, we’re very disappointed the Army has chosen to move forward given the lack of evidence,” Forest Holmes said. “We’re very concerned for our son.”

Eleven of Holmes’ platoon mates are also accused of wrongdoing at Forward Operating Base Ramrod in Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province.

The focus of the Army’s investigation is on squad leader Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, who allegedly devised schemes to kill Afghans and had a hand in murdering three civilians between January and May. He denies the charges and is scheduled to face a court-martial on April 4.

The case against Holmes is largely built on sworn statements from Spc. Jeremy Morlock, who likewise is accused of murdering three Afghans and is described by prosecutors as Gibbs’ “right-hand man.”

Morlock told investigators in May that the January killing unfolded after Gibbs suggested he toss a grenade at someone in a combat-like situation. Morlock told investigators that he recognized an opportunity to do so and said that Holmes participated by shooting at the Afghan when Morlock ordered him to fire.

Morlock has not spoken in court. He submitted a plea agreement this week that would require him to testify against Gibbs and other codefendants. Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commanding general at Lewis-McChord, is considering the proposal.

Witnesses who testified at Holmes’ pretrial hearing described Morlock as an unreliable soldier. At least one said it appeared the January killing was justified.

“If they want to build their case on Morlock’s testimony, we’re ready for that,” Conway said.

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