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Jury finds Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs guilty on all “kill team” charges

Post by Adam Ashton / The News Tribune on Nov. 10, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
November 11, 2011 10:52 am

6:40 PM UPDATE: Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs will be eligible for parole. It was his only victory today. His friends breathed a sigh of relief as the jury announced that he would receive that leniency.

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6:05 PM UPDATE: Army prosecutor Maj. Dre Leblanc asked an Army jury to deny Stryker “kill team” ringleader Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs a chance to earn parole, calling the Montana soldier “monstrous.”

Leblanc cited Gibbs’ characterizations of Afghans as “dirty savages” and pointed to an oversize image of one of Gibbs’ victims. The man lay dead with a bloodied head.

“Ladies and gentlemen, there is the savage,” Leblanc said. “Sgt. Gibbs is the savage, Not those innocent Afghans who did nothing but go about their lives. And Sgt. Gibbs killed them. He is the savage.”

The jury is discussing whether Gibbs should receive the possibility of a parole.

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4:30 PM UPDATE: Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs today asked the jury panel that convicted him of murdering three Afghans last year to give him a chance to earn parole one day “to give him an opportunity to be with his son.”

Gibbs did not speak directly to the jury. His attorney, Phil Stackhouse, spoke on Gibbs’ behalf. “As you can imagine, it’s an emotional day for him and his family,” Stackhouse said.

Stackhouse said Gibbs wanted the jury to know Gibbs is “not the same person he was when he was in Afghanistan, or even before he went to Afghanistan in 2009.”

Gibbs regretted his actions, Stackhouse said, and wants to help raise his 3-year-old son. He won’t be eligible for parole for at least 10 years, Stackhouse said.

Stackhouse said Gibbs asked his parents and siblings from Billings, Mont. to stay away from the trial. “He has talked to them almost daily to let them know what’s happening even though it’s very difficult for them to understand what he’s going through.”

“When he elnslited in the Army, it was never his intent – just after his 17th birthday – to ever be standing in front of a court-martial for the typies of crimes he’s been convicted,” Stackhouse said.

The jury is expected to return with its decision at 5:30 p.m.

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A Joint Base Lewis-McChord sergeant will spend the rest of his life in jail for abusing his leadership position and persuading junior soldiers to join him in plots to murder Afghan civilians in combat-like engagements last year.

Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs’ conviction Thursday affirms the Army’s depiction of him as a cold-blooded murderer who called Afghans “dirty savages” and openly cut fingers from corpses to bind his collaborators into a rogue “kill team.”

He was found guilty of 15 criminal charges, including three murders. The murders carry a minimum sentence of life in prison.

Gibbs appeared shocked as the jury forewoman read the verdict. His wife, Chelsy, sobbed. A sentencing session is under way in which Gibbs could win the possibility of parole.

Gibbs, 26, fought the charges, arguing he was framed by pot smoking junior soldiers who shifted blame to him for their crimes in exchange for lighter punishment from the Army. He insisted he thought the killings took place in legitimate combat in enemy territory.

But Gibbs couldn’t overcome layered testimony from his platoon mates. A five-soldier jury panel made up of three officers and two senior noncommissioned officers did not buy his defense.

“Staff Sgt. Gibbs betrayed his oath. He betrayed his unit, and with the flag of his nation blazoned across his chest thousands of miles from home, he betrayed his nation,” prosecutor Maj. Rob Stelle said Wednesday.

Gibbs was one of a dozen soldiers from Lewis-McChord’s 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division who came home a month early from their deployment accused of misconduct ranging from assaulting a private to stabbing a corpse.

Five of them including Gibbs were accused of murdering civilians. Three of those soldiers had pleaded guilty to the murders before Gibbs’ trial, and they testified at his court-martial. The fifth alleged “kill team” participant, Spc. Michael Wagnon, is expected to face his court-martial in January.

News of their crimes circled around the world, gaining notoriety in March when Rolling Stone and Der Spiegel magazines published photographs of two of the murderers posing with the corpse of the teenage boy they killed in January 2010. Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the images that month.

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