Admitted murderer Pvt. Jeremy Morlock last week testified that he’s been reading transcripts from the Army’s “kill team” hearings while he prepares to take the witness stand at his codefendants’ courts-martial.
It was hard to forget his studies when defense attorney Phillip Stackhouse asked Morlock who else knew about alleged schemes to murder Afghan civilians among Stryker soldiers at Forward Operating Base Ramrod in southern Afghanistan.
Morlock typically says he and four others carried out those plots while “the majority of the platoon” knew about them. It’s rare for him to identify someone who hasn’t already been accused of a crime. This time, he added a new name to the group of soldiers he says knew about the plots: Spc. Ryan Mallett.
Mallett’s been providing testimony that undercuts Morlock’s. Mallett witnessed two of the three killings in the investigation, and his memory places soldiers in different positions than Morlock remembers.
“One of the most telling things is (Morlock has) been asking for transcripts from the hearings and the prosecution’s providing them,” said Stackhouse, who’s representing alleged “kill team” ringleader Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs.
Morlock isn’t the only witness who gives the impression of throwing or pulling punches to help former platoon mates.
Pfc. Michael Lecroy appears unwilling to speak the name of any soldier who isn’t regarded as a snitch in his old platoon.
He’s been a go-to witness at the most recent hearings since he offered a statement describing a conversation he overheard in May 2010 between Morlock and codefendant Spc. Adam Winfield. Lecroy says the two soldiers plotted to lay the blame for the killings on higher-ranking soldiers, such as codefendants Staff Sgts. Calvin Gibbs and David Bram.
His testimony is appealing because it fits a defense narrative that casts Morlock as a sociopath who makes up stories to diminish his responsibility for his war crimes.
But Lecroy has memory gaps that come off as suspicious under questioning even if he’s being truthful about the plot he overheard.
Last week, the Army officer who oversaw a pretrial hearing for Gibbs asked Lecroy a string of questions about who else might have been present when Lecroy checked in on a soldier who’d been assaulted by Gibbs, Morlock and five others at their base.
Lecroy said he saw Morlock return to the room of the assault, but wasn’t sure if he saw anyone else. Three witnesses place Gibbs in the room with Morlock and assault victim then-Pfc. Justin Stoner.
Gibbs has the build of an NFL linebacker. Morlock is in shape, but a guy of average height and build. It’s hard to imagine how one can see Morlock walk in a bedroom but miss someone who stands a head taller than him.
Defense attorneys have rightly pointed out that the witnesses are under pressure to remember some of the most intense events of their lives from more than a year ago, which explains some of the differences in their testimony. They usually describe Lecroy as a friendly guy who held on to his statement until his own court-martial ended for his drug use during his deployment. They say Lecroy is believable because he “doesn’t have a dog in the fight.”
With the “kill team” investigation in its home stretch, both sides are calculating who’s credible and who isn’t. Only five of 12 defendants are still awaiting their courts-martial.
Prosecutors have a challenge in that two of their most important witnesses – Morlock and Spc. Emmitt Quintal – say they smoked hashish regularly during their deployment with the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. They even used drugs together after they were detained and providing sworn statements to Army criminal investigators.
Last week, Morlock said he used drugs every day during his mission, giving the impression that he treated his year in Afghanistan like a stint in a college dorm. The one jury panel that watched him testify didn’t convict defendant Sgt. Darren Jones on the crimes Morlock described.
Quintal has shortcomings, too. He’s open and sincere when he testifies, but he wasn’t a direct witness to the three killings that make up the heart of the investigation. He based his knowledge of the incidents on what he heard from Morlock.
That leaves open the question of whether the Army will sweeten the terms of possible plea deals for the remaining defendants to make sure it convicts the soldiers it most wants to put behind bars.