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Stryker “kill team” suspect asks judge to release him from pre-trial confinement

Post by Adam Ashton / The News Tribune on April 21, 2011 at 6:05 pm with No Comments »
April 21, 2011 6:05 pm

A Stryker soldier who allegedly helped murder an Afghan civilian last year asked an Army judge today to release him from confinement at Joint Base Lewis-McChord while he awaits his June court martial.

Spc. Michael Wagnon has been in jail since June with four of his fellow platoon mates who also face charges that they murdered noncombatants during a deployment with the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

He’d be the first to go home if Judge Lt. Col. Kwasi Hawks grants his request.

Wagnon, 30, believes he’s been kept in confinement because the Army views him as a “media risk,” meaning commanders worry he’d talk to reporters about the alleged “kill team” that operated within his platoon.

He was ordered into pre-trial confinement 10 months ago when the Army accused him of murdering a civilian and trying to destroy evidence related to his case.

Since then, the Army has dropped the obstruction charge and Wagnon’s attorneys contend he should go free for the time being because he’s neither a flight risk nor a threat to derail the Army’s case against him or his codefendants. He lives on base with his wife, Carrie, and their three children.

Wagnon’s attorneys suggested the Army release him and place a tracking device on his ankle, similar to how civilian courts monitor sex offenders. The attorneys offered to pay the bill.

Hawks said he’d consider releasing Wagnon, but he said it’s up to the soldier’s commanders to restrict his movements.

Prosecutors want to keep Wagnon in jail, partly because of the severity of the charges against him. They argue Wagnon willingly participated in a February 2010 killing with two of his platoon mates and helped alleged “kill team” ringleader Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs cover up the incident by portraying it as combat.

“He did in fact commit offenses under (the Uniform Code of Military Justice,” prosecutor Capt. Jon Riesenberg said. “He did participate in a conspiracy.”

Wagnon’s attorneys also asked Hawks to dismiss the Army’s case, arguing prosecutors violated the soldier’s right to a speedy trial by ignoring Wagnon and focusing on his codefendants.

They zeroed in on Wagnon’s Nov. 22 Article 32 hearing, when investigating officer Maj. Michael Liles weighed the Army’s evidence. Liles wrote a Dec. 10 report indicating he found no evidence that Wagnon participated in a premeditated murder. The Army didn’t announce that it would pursue the case until Jan. 31.

Colby Vokey, Wagnon’s attorney, contends prosecutors used that time to develop a pretrial agreement with codefendant Spc. Jeremy Morlock. Morlock refused to testify before Liles at Wagnon’s Article 32 hearing.

Last month, Morlock pled guilty to murdering three Afghans and agreed to testify against his codefendants. He’s the key witness against Wagnon, and the only soldier in the platoon who has indicated that Wagnon knew the February 2010 killing was staged by Gibbs.

Vokey wants Hawks to either re-open the Article 32 hearing and compel Morlock to testify, or to drop the case entirely.

Prosecutors countered that they moved Wagnon’s case forward in good faith, and that Wagnon’s own attorneys were responsible for much of the delay in bringing the charges before a jury.

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