Spc. Jeremy Morlock yesterday admitted he helped kill three Afghan civilians last year, but he couldn’t say for sure if his weapons caused their deaths.
He still said he was guilty, though, because he conspired to kill the noncombatants and created situations that led to their deaths.
Attorneys for his codefendants in a war crimes investigation unfolding at Joint Base Lewis-McChord have been hammering the Army for not producing conclusive evidence that would show which soldiers are responsible for murdering the Afghans. Some defense teams are trying to get to Afghanistan to visit the scenes of the killings to gather their own evidence.
A January 2010 killing Morlock described to Army Judge Lt. Col. Kwasi Hawks illustrated the uncertainty over whose weapons delivered fatal shots to the victims.
Morlock said the killing played out when he spotted an Afghan approaching him and Pfc. Andrew Holmes. Morlock said he and Holmes agreed to kill the man in a scenario they’d devised with Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, a squad leader in their platoon. Morlock tossed a grenade over a wall near them to make it appear as if the Afghan attacked he and Holmes. He ordered Holmes to shoot the man.
After the grenade exploded, Morlock said he shot the Afghan, too.The Afghan was already down, Morlock said.
“He was laying on the ground, dead presumably,” Morlock said.
He radioed a situation report to other members of his platoon. They arrived and Capt. Patrick Mitchell asked the soldiers to make sure the Afghan was dead.*
Capt. Matthew Quiggle over a radio asked the soldiers to make sure the Afghan was dead. Staff Sgt. Kris Sprague interpreted that order as a directive to shoot the Afghan twice more.
Sprague was not charged with a crime for shooting the Afghan because he didn’t know the incident was staged. Holmes and Morlock each were charged with murder.
Morlock told Hawks he believed Holmes’ weapon killed the Afghan. Holmes has denied he knowingly participated in a staged killing, and his attorney has said Morlock’s weapons killed the Afghan. Holmes attorney Dan Conway says photos of the victim show he was not hit with Holmes’ squad automatic weapon.
Judge Hawks asked Morlock how he knew he killed the Afghan.
“I could only assume that a burst from an automatic weapon and a relatively close position of a fragmentary grenade going off, that that would be the end result,” Morlock told the judge.
Prosecutor Capt. Dre Leblanc told Hawks that Morlock created the situation for the Afghan’s death by faking a combat incident. Morlock’s attorney, Frank Spinner, conceded the man would not have died if Morlock hadn’t engaged him. Before the shooting, Morlock said the man was obeying his commands to stay about 20 meters from him and Holmes.
“He was just standing there,” Morlock said.
* This post incorrectly identified the captain as Matthew Quiggle, a former company commander who was in charge of the platoon that’s now being investigated for misconduct. Capt. Patrick Mitchell was on the scene of the January 2010 killing, according to sworn statements from others who were there.