U.S. soldier fights Afghan ‘kill squad’ court martial
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Washington — A US soldier accused of being part of a rogue “kill squad” that targeted Afghan civilians should not face court martial, his lawyer argued at a new hearing Wednesday.
Private Andrew Holmes is accused of the premeditated murder of a teenage boy in a poppy field near a small Afghan village in January 2010, and is currently due to be court martialed in July.
The 19-year-old, a member of a rogue Stryker Brigade unit, also stands accused of using hashish and possessing photos of the incident and war trophies, specifically fingers taken from corpses.
Wednesday’s hearing opened with testimony from Private Jeremy Morlock, who pleaded guilty last November and is now serving a 24-year sentence as part of a deal which gives him immunity from further prosecution.
Morlock said he summoned the Afghan man and then threw a grenade at him while Holmes shot at him. He added that he held no malice towards Holmes, whom he treated like “a little brother.”
But under cross-examination by Holmes’s attorney, Dan Conway, Morlock admitted to a history of alcohol and drug problems as well as a record of petty crime, including an assault on his then-wife.
Staff Sergeant Kris Sprague, a senior officer, then testified against Morlock, saying: “He seemed to not be a truthful person and a masterful manipulator .. He was a bit of a troublemaker.”
Sprague said Holmes was a typical Army private who had what he called “small lapses in discipline” but was “easily straightened up.”
After the hearing, Holmes’s attorney highlighted testimony that his client was nearly killed by the grenade in the incident, saying: “That alone proves he was not a willing participant.”
Holmes mother, Dana Holmes, said she thought Morlock wanted her son dead.
“He wanted to kill my son to make this a legitimate engagement,” she said after the hearing.
A recommendation by Investigative Officer Major Michael P. Lyles as to whether the Army will pursue charges against Holmes will likely be announced in six to eight weeks.