[JURIST] Private Andrew Holmes, 21, pleaded guilty on Thursday to murdering a teenage Afghan civilian that he knew was unarmed. Holmes is the second soldier to plead guilty [Reuters report] of five who have been charged with murder as part of a plot contrived with fellow soldiers to kill Afghan civilians which took place between January and May of last year in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province. Holmes told the court-martial, held at Joint Base Lewis-McChord [official website], that Specialist Jeremy Morlock [JURIST news archive], a co-defendant, “was up to no good” when he ordered soldiers to fire at the villagers. Morlock pleaded guilty [JURIST report] in March to three counts of murder, as well as one count each of assault, conspiracy, obstructing justice and illegal drug use in exchange for a maximum sentence of 24 years in prison. In a plea agreement between Army prosecutors and the private, Holmes admitted to pulling the trigger, but pleaded not guilty [Seattle Times report] to previous charges of premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Holmes also pleaded guilty to one count each of possessing a finger bone and using marijuana. Holmes is likely to be sentenced later Friday.
Investigations into the 5th Stryker Brigade have led to additional charges for lesser crimes against seven other soldiers. In May, US Army prosecutors charged Staff Sgt. David Bram with solicitation to commit premeditated murder [JURIST report], failure to report crimes including murder, planting evidence near the body of an Afghan national, unlawfully engaging in murder scenario conversations with subordinates and aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon in related to the January 2010 murder plot. 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. A military investigation revealed that soldiers from the brigade had been plotting since 2009 to kill unarmed Afghans and stage them to look like casualties of combat. The probe into 12 soldiers regarding the civilian deaths began in May 2010 [JURIST report]. These charges are the latest in a number of incidents involving US soldiers in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In April 2010, 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.