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Military court grants stay for US soldier charged in Afghanistan civilian death

The US Army Court of Criminal Appeals [official website] on Friday stayed proceedings against a soldier charged in the death of an Afghan civilian in January. The stay was granted in the case of Private First Class Andrew Holmes of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and allows time for the prosecution and defense to argue over the release of sealed photographs [Seattle Times report]. Holmes was charged in June along with Specialist Jeremy Morlock [JURIST report] and three others in relation to the death of an Afghan civilian who was shot in January in Kandahar province. The prosecution alleges that Holmes and the others murdered the man and attempted to make it appear as if he were an enemy combatant. The stay request came during an Article 32 hearing [10 USC § 832], which will determine if the government has enough evidence to proceed to a court-martial. The photographs, reported to depict Holmes and others posing with the man's body, have been sealed due to concerns that they would incite opposition forces in Afghanistan. The defense claims that the photographs show [AP report] that Holmes did not shoot the man, and argues that refusing to release them violates Holmes' Sixth Amendment right to a public trial [Cornell LII backgrounder]. The court granted the prosecution 20 days to respond to the defense request, and 14 days following that for the reply from the defense. Holmes has maintained his innocence.

In late October the Army announced that Morlock would undergo a court-martial [JURIST report] for his role in the death of the Afghan civilian. The Criminal Investigation Division investigation into that civilian death was announced in May [JURIST report]. The investigation was the latest into 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. 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.

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