A US soldier accused of killing three Afghan civilians [JURIST report] in an unprovoked rogue assault earlier this year will face a court-martial for premeditated murder, the US Army [official website] announced Friday. Specialist Jeremy Morlock of Joint Base Lewis McChord [official website] is one of five soldiers accused of murdering the civilians [AP report] in separate incidents between January and May in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan. During preliminary hearings, Morlock contended that he was following the orders of Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs to randomly kill civilians while on patrol. In addition to three counts of premeditated murder, Morlock has been charged with assault, conspiracy to murder, conspiracy to assault, impeding an investigation and using a controlled substance. If convicted, Morlock could face a possible death sentence, but the Army will reportedly press for the lesser sentence of life imprisonment [BBC report]. A date for the trial has not been set, and the other four soldiers allegedly involved in the killings have yet to be formally charged.
The Army announced in May that its Criminal Investigation Command was opening an investigation [JURIST report] into the civilian deaths in Kandahar. The charges are the latest in a number of incidents involving US soldiers in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In April, a military appeals court reversed the conviction [JURIST report] of US Marine Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III for the 2006 killing of an Iraqi civilian, citing lack of a fair trial. Hutchins was serving an 11-year sentence, reduced from 15 years [JURIST report], for his role in the April 2006 kidnapping and murder of an Iraqi civilian. In December, former soldier Steven Green appealed his conviction [JURIST report] for his role in the rape and murder of a 14-year old Iraqi girl. Green was sentenced to five consecutive life terms [JURIST report] in September.