Specialist Jeremy Morlock [JURIST news archive] pleaded guilty Wednesday to three counts of murder as part of a plot contrived with fellow soldiers to kill Afghan civilians. At the court-martial, held at Joint Base Lewis-McChord [official website], Morlock also pleaded guilty [AP report] to one count each of assault, conspiracy, obstructing justice and illegal drug use in exchange for a maximum sentence of 24 years in prison. According to the plea-agreement [AP report], Morlock agreed to testify against his co-defendants. Four other soldiers in Morlock's unit, the 5th Stryker Brigade, are also charged with the deaths of the three Afghan men, which occurred in the Kandahar province in January, February and May of last year. Morlock told the military judge, Lieutenant Colonel Kwasi Hawks, that he and his fellow soldiers began plotting the murders of unarmed Afghans in 2009 and killed the three civilians knowing they were unarmed and posed no legitimate threat. Morlock testified that Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs, who is also charged, took the lead in developing the plot. Gibbs maintains [Seattle Times report] that the deaths were a result of combat. In January, the Washington Post first reported that Morlock accepted the plea agreement [JURIST report] offered by US Army [official website] prosecutors. Morlock, charged [JURIST report] June, is the first of the five soldiers to be court-martialed.
Investigations into the 5th Stryker Brigade have led to additional charges for lesser crimes against seven other soldiers. Staff Sgt. Robert Stevens pleaded guilty [JURIST report] in December to shooting two unarmed Afghan farmers following a plea agreement that will allow him to remain in the military after serving a nine month sentence and testifying against other soldiers accused of terrifying civilians. Earlier in the week, the US Army had ordered a court-martial [JURIST report] for Staff Sgt. David Bram, who was accused of severely beating an Army private in his unit to keep him from informing about alleged drug abuse within the unit. The Army announced in May that its Criminal Investigation Command was opening an investigation into the civilian deaths [JURIST report] in Kandahar. These 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 2009, 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 2009.