12:10 PM UPDATE:
“Kill team” suspect Pfc. Andrew Holmes will spend seven years in prison for murdering an Afghan boy during a patrol in January 2010, Army Lt. Col. Kwasi Hawks announced this morning.
Hawks wanted to sentence Holmes to 15 years in prison, saying it appeared to him that Holmes had not confronted “the awful moral gravity” of what he did when he shot 15-year-old Gul Mudin as the Afghan stood in a poppy field.
His sentence was capped by a pretrial agreement that limited his confinement to seven years. Holmes will receive credit for the 499 days he has been confined since the Army launched its investigation in May 2010. He also could be released early with credit for good behavior.
Holmes’ family members cried as Hawks read his sentence. The judge prefaced his sentence by telling Holmes, “I hope and I believe you will have a long and productive life, and I believe a happy life.”
Hawks said he understood that Holmes was a junior soldier in a difficult situation, but he said it did not excuse the murder.
“You aimed a fully loaded squad automatic weapon at child that stood 15 feet away,” Hawks told him.
Holmes is the Army’s ninth conviction in its “kill team” investigation. Two of them struck pleaded guilty to killing Afghans in situations similar to Holmes. Three of Holmes’ platoonmates are still awaiting trials.
Pfc. Andrew Holmes this morning tearfully asked an Army judge for mercy a day after the soldier from Boise pleaded guilty to causing the death of an innocent Afghan last year.
“Please give me the opportunity to be a son, a brother, a nephew,” Holmes, 21, said to Army Judge Lt. Col. Kwasi Hawks in court at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
He’s one of five soldiers in Lewis-McChord’s 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division who came home from their tour in June 2010 accused of murdering Afghans in combat-like scenarios. Two of the five have accepted plea deals.
Holmes yesterday admitted the he shot a 15-year-old Afghan Gul Mudin in January 2010 even though he had doubts about the order he received to fire on the boy. He pleaded guilty to a murder charge described as causing a death through reckless behavior with disregard for human life.
Today, his parents and a friend from his platoon testified as character witnesses before Hawks to describe how war changed him. They said he showed signs of struggling with things he saw, even though he wouldn’t describe them in detail.
“I hope this court will see (Holmes) for the man he is and the situation he was in, and just let him live a full and useful life,” his mother, Dana Holmes, said on the witness stand.
Holmes today called the soldier who ordered him to shoot a “psychopath.” That soldier, then-Spc. Jeremy Morlock, has pleaded guilty to murdering three Afghans and is serving a 24-year prison sentence.
Holmes said he should have raised concerns about Morlock in December 2009 when Holmes first heard Morlock talk about murdering Afghans.
“It breaks my heart,” he said. “I wish I could’ve stopped this whole thing.”
Prosecutors acknowledged that Holmes was a junior soldier in a bad situation. They said he still had to answer for his crime in murdering an innocent teenager.
Prosecutor Maj. Rob Stelle placed a blown-up photo of Holmes standing over the boy he killed as he delivered his closing argument.
“It was callous, reckless indifference, a depraved heart,” Stelle said. “The accused had a choice. He pulled the trigger and ended that man’s life.’
Stelle asked Hawks to deliver a sentence of 13 and a half years to send a stern message that Holmes’ behavior was unacceptable.
Holmes’ attorney said three years would be more appropriate because of Holmes’ remorse and his junior status in a rogue platoon.
“This is a 19-year-old who was placed in an extremely difficult situation and he made a bad call,” defense attorney Dan Conway said.
Hawks is expected to return with a sentence this afternoon.