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Stryker sergeant guilty of assaulting fellow soldier; innocent of harming Afghans

Post by Adam Ashton / The News Tribune on July 8, 2011 at 10:49 am |
July 8, 2011 4:35 pm

UPDATE 5:35 p.m.

Sgt. Darren Jones was sentenced to seven months in prison and demoted to private for his role in assaulting then Pfc. Justin Stoner. He avoided a bad-conduct discharge, a punishment handed to three codefendants who have been convicted of the same crime against the whistleblower who led investigators to an alleged Stryker “kill team.”

Jones embraced two of his codefandants and three of his family members after his sentence was read. He told jurors earlier today that he wanted to stay in the Army and that he regretted his actions against Stoner.

UPDATE 12:50 p.m.

A Stryker sergeant was convicted today of assaulting the whistleblower who kicked off the Army’s “kill team” investigation, but he was found innocent of more serious charges that he had plotted to hurt Afghans during his deployment with the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

Sgt. Darren Jones, 30, is awaiting his sentencing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

A five-soldier jury panel found him guilty of assaulting then-Pfc. Justin Stoner at Forward Operating Base Ramrod last May after Stoner raised complaints about drug use in his platoon. Jones also was found guilty of conspiring to hurt Stoner.

The jury found Jones not guilty of:

* Conspiring to harm Afghans;

* Participating in an unjustified shooting during a March 2010 patrol;

* And, trying to impede an Army investigation.

Jones appeared to cry when the jury foreman read the verdict. His supporters appeared relieved when they learned Jones was innocent of the other charges.

******

Sgt. Darren Jones undermined the American war effort in Afghanistan when he beat up a lower ranking soldier and shot at farmers he should have known weren’t armed, a prosecutor argued this morning at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Jones, 30, is in back in front of a jury for the second day of his court-martial. Last year, Jones was a noncommissioned officer in a 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division platoon that contained six soldiers who allegedly plotted to murder Afghan civilians in combat-like scenarios.

Jones faces 22 years in prison if he’s convicted of assaulting the whistleblower who led investigators to their platoon, shooting at unarmed Afghans during a March 2010 patrol, impeding an Army investigation and two conspiracy charges linked to those incidents.

Both sides conceded that Jones participated in a seven-soldier assault on then Pfc. Justin Stoner, whose complaints about drug use at Forward Operating Base Ramrod in Southern Afghanistan kicked off the Army investigation.

Attorneys argued over the less clear-cut shooting at Afghan farmers during the March patrol.

Prosecutor Army Capt. Dan Mazzone cited three witnesses who said Jones and other soldiers on the patrol had their eyes on the Afghans for at least five minutes before one of them yelled that he saw a rocket propelled grenade launcher.

The noncommissioned officer in charge of the patrol then ordered the line to open fire on the count of three, an unusual command given that soldiers are taught to shoot when they see an imminent threat.

A month later, Jones allegedly told Pvt. Jeremy Morlock that he knew the Afghans were harmless. Morlock has pled guilt to murdering three Afghans with his platoon mates, and he’s agreed to testify against his codefendants.

“We are fighting a long, protracted war on terror. Our soldiers are trying to win hearts and minds. When you intentionally shot at someone who poses no harm to you, you undermine everything our leaders are trying to do,” Mazzone said this morning in closing arguments.

Kevin McDermott, Jones’ defense attorney, countered that it’s too late to second-guess decisions soldiers make on the battlefield. He argued that the patrol was walking in hostile territory and taking precautionary measures to avoid roadside bombs and mines.

McDermott said it’s reasonable that the Afghan was carrying a shovel to plant an improvised explosive.

“There is no evidence that (Jones) is a cold, calculated killer,” McDermott said. “He’s a young man who wants to stay alive and wanted to follow orders.”

Jones’ jury panel is made up of two colonels, one command sergeant major and two sergeants major.

Mazzone appeared to appeal to the three high-ranking noncommissioned officers in making his case that Jones failed as a sergeant during his tour. Mazzone suggested Jones as a sergeant should have protected Stoner instead of joining the beating.

“This erodes everything that the noncommissioned corps stands for and this erodes everything their chain of command trusts them to do,” Mazzone said.

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