The Stryker soldier who allegedly hatched plans for his platoonmates to murder three Afghan civilians last year is going to trial Friday, the Army announced today.
Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, 26, of Billings, Mont., faces life in prison if he’s convicted on any one of three murder charges. He’s charged with 13 other crimes alleging he beat up a subordinate who told officers about drug use in their platoon and collected bones from dead Afghans.
Gibbs has maintained his innocence on the murder charges ever since the Army put him in custody 16 months ago. Through his lawyer, Gibbs says the three killings that make up the heart of the Army’s case against him took place in legitimate combat.
He was one of 12 soldiers from his platoon in Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division who came home from Afghanistan in June 2010 facing criminal charges for their conduct at Forward Operating Base Ramrod.
Five of them including Gibbs allegedly took part in the murders. The other seven faced less serious charges, such as drug use and assault.
Nine of them have been convicted at courts-martial over the past year. Two soldiers, former Spcs. Jeremy Morlock and Adam Winfield, have pleaded guilty to killing Afghans and agreed to testify against Gibbs.
They have testified that they were frightened of Gibbs. Winfield even feared that Gibbs would kill him, he told Army investigators last year.
All together, at least six soldiers from the 29-man platoon have told investigators they were aware of Gibbs’ plots.
However, attorneys for other codefendants have said Gibbs has a fighting chance of being found innocent of the murders.
Some of the challenges prosecutors face include:
- The Army does not have physical evidence tying Gibbs to any of the murders.
- A private who temporarily shared housing with Morlock has said he overheard Morlock and Winfield plot to lay the blame for their crimes on Gibbs.
- Gibbs was not at the scene of the first killing in January 2010. Witnesses to the second and third killings have offered differing descriptions of those incidents. They say Gibbs appeared to be attacked in the second incident, and that he was not present when shooting broke out for the third killing.
- Morlock, Winfield and one other key witness against Gibbs have testified that they smoked hashish after they were taken into custody in Afghanistan and giving interviews to Army investigators.
- Morlock has given the impression in court that he was as responsible for the murders as Gibbs. He testified that he had talked about how to cover up questionable shootings before Gibbs joined their platoon to replace an injured sergeant in November 2009. Morlock initiated the first killing in January 2010.
Gibbs’ court-martial likely will run well into next week. It should answer the question of whether Gibbs really was a “Mansonesque” figure who led his platoon down a dark path.