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For the second time, investigator finds scant evidence in “kill team” case against Wagnon

Post by Adam Ashton / The News Tribune on July 27, 2011 at 7:42 pm with No Comments »
July 27, 2011 7:42 pm

An Army investigator for the second time found scant evidence to substantiate the murder charge prosecutors pressed against a Stryker soldier who allegedly killed an Afghan civilian in a staged incident last year.

The new report is a boost for Spc. Michael Wagnon, 30, one of five Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers accused of making up a “kill team” during their deployment with the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

Maj. Michael Liles’ report is especially challenging for prosecutors because he shows clear skepticism that the Army’s main witness can be trusted to tell the truth about the case.

That witness is Pvt. Jeremy Morlock, who in March was sentenced to 24 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to murdering three Afghans in 2010. Morlock was not available to testify when Liles last considered Wagnon’s case in December because Morlock had not concluded his own court-martial.

Morlcok alleges that Wagnon joined him and Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs in murdering an Afghan civilian during a February 2010 patrol.

However, Morlock’s given several different descriptions of that incident since he was detained by Army investigators in May 2010. In one statement, Morlock said he wasn’t sure whether Wagnon knew the incident was staged.

“Pvt. Morlock’s inconsistent testimony, sworn statements and videotaped testimony make it difficult to distinguish what is true or false in this case,” Liles wrote.

Liles further noted that at least three witnesses contested Morlock’s account. Staff Sgt. Kris Sprague, Spc. Ryan Mallett and Spc. Corey Moore each said Wagnon was separated from Gibbs and Morlock when the shooting started.

Liles also appeared swayed by testimony from a jailhouse informant who said Morlock told him Wagnon and another codefendant were innocent. Spc. Ronald Washington alleges Morlock wanted to pin some of the blame on Wagnon and Pfc. Andrew Holmes so he could get a better plea deal from prosecutors.

Gibbs and Holmes are awaiting courts-martial in September and early October. Like Wagnon, they deny they knowingly participated in staged killings.

“I’m not sure how the Army can still stick by Morlock,” said Wagnon’s defense attorney, Colby Vokey. “Something new is always coming out that impeaches him more and more.”

Liles’ review doesn’t end the proceedings against Wagnon. Rather, it represents his best judgment about the Army’s case against the soldier from Las Vegas.

It’s up to Lewis-McChord senior Army officer Maj. Gen. Lloyd Miles to decide whether Wagnon should face a court-martial.

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