Last week’s abrupt conclusion to the Army’s two-year “kill team” investigation at Joint Base Lewis-McChord led me to call several of the families whose lives were upended by successive courts-martial. Check The News Tribune Sunday for the story I’m writing from the interviews on how they’re rebuilding their lives with the trials behind them.
One impression that stood out: Some of the families are standing by convicted “kill team” ringleader Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs.
This isn’t too surprising given that so many of Gibbs’ friends and fellow soldiers attended his November court-martial. They’ve been pulling for him along and they clearly liked him as an infantry squad leader.
It’s a disconnect for me because Gibbs’ conviction caused me to drop the word “alleged” from my stories about him – Unless he wins an appeal, he’s guilty. It also contradicts what most civilians would assume: That families would blame Gibbs for leading soldiers in his platoon down a dark path by planting the seeds for three civilian killings.
Here’s one example from Dana Holmes. Her son, Pfc. Andrew Holmes, was one of four soldiers in his platoon who were convicted of participating in illegitimate killings.
Dana Holmes said she met Gibbs during her visits to Lewis-McChord and came away with a positive impression of the soldier from Montana.
“I have never seen the person the Army portrayed,” she said. “I’m not saying he’s not guilty, I’ve never seen that person.”
Here’s someone who knew Gibbs better. Sara Bram is the wife of Staff Sgt. David Bram, who was convicted of assaulting a subordinate and posing for a photo with an Afghan casualty.
“I don’t believe for one second (Gibbs) was going around wanting to kill people,” Sara Bram said.
Gibbs in November denied that he orchestrated civilian killings during his deployment with the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. A five-soldier jury didn’t believe him. They sided with testimony from admitted “kill team” participant Spc. Jeremy Morlock and Spc. Adam Winfield, who also pleaded guilty to joining in an illegitimate shooting with Gibbs.
Gibbs to me appeared stunned when the jury chairwoman read the verdict, as if he couldn’t understand why the members of the jury panel would believe Morlock and Winfield over him.
In December, I ran into a member of the jury panel and asked the soldier if Gibbs looked surprised by the results of his trial. It was a casual conversation, so I’m not naming the soldier.
The answer: How could Gibbs expect a different result after watching the evidence the jury saw?