Before he was a murder defendant, Spc. Adam Winfield was a whistle-blower in an alleged conspiracy by fellow Stryker soldiers to kill Afghans. He tried to draw attention to a suspicious death by telling his father, who then placed an undisputed phone call to Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
The Army, however, doesn’t want a jury to hear Winfield’s testimony about how he tried to alert authorities three months before he participated in a similar staged killing.
Army lawyers on Monday said that testimony is irrelevant to their prosecution of Winfield, one of five soldiers in Lewis-McChord’s 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division who face murder charges for killing Afghan civilians last year.
Winfield, 22, was in court Monday while his attorneys and government prosecutors filed pretrial motions . Winfield is expected to face a court martial early this summer. He could be sentenced to life in prison.
Winfield’s attorney used the hearing to obtain evidence the Army had withheld from him, and to begin planning a trip to review the crime scene. Defense attorney Eric Montalvo tried to go to the location in southern Afghanistan using privately hired fixers in January, but he could not get there on his own or with the Army’s help.
It was February 2010 when Winfield told his father, Christopher, that soldiers in his platoon were intent on murdering Afghan civilians in combat-like scenarios. When Christopher Winfield called his son’s home base, a staff sergeant who took the call said that the soldier would have to bring up his concerns to his chain of command in Afghanistan.
Winfield did not follow that advice, according to his lawyer, because he feared retaliation from his platoon mates. On May 2, he allegedly joined in another staged killing by firing his weapon with two comrades at an Afghan noncombatant.
Prosecutor Army Capt. Dan Mazzone said Winfield’s February messages to his father were entirely separate from his decision in May to pull the trigger when his squad leader allegedly asked him and another soldier whether they wanted to kill the Afghan civilian.
Winfield’s defense attorneys countered that Winfield’s Face-book messages to his dad showed that he did not want to participate in an alleged “kill team” led by Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs.
Montalvo said the messages are important because the Army charged Winfield with conspiring to harm Afghans between November 2009 and May 2010. His appeals to his father in February demonstrate that he wasn’t a willing participant for much of that time, Montalvo said.
In other motions filed Monday, Montalvo asked Army judge Lt. Col. Kwasi Hawks to bar prosecutors from showing a recorded confession Winfield gave to Army investigators in May.
Motalvo argued that Winfield only cooperated with the investigation after an Army special agent appeared to threaten Winfield by suggesting they tell Gibbs that Winfield was helping make the Army’s case.
Before then, Winfield insisted for three hours on May 12 to Army Criminal Investigation Division special agent Anderson Wagner that the killing 10 days earlier was legitimate.
Wagner said he escorted Winfield to a portable toilet for a break. He put his arm around the soldier and said they could visit Gibbs, who was already in confinement on suspicion of murdering Afghans.
Winfield was deathly afraid of Gibbs, according to Winfield’s attorney.
Winfield “stopped. He halted. He froze and said ‘He’ll kill me,’” Wagner said in court Monday.
Faced with the threat of having to face Gibbs, Winfield opened up to the special agent, describing frequent drug use by members of the platoon, three suspicious killings and his own role in the May 12 murder.
“I took a man from his family,” Winfield said in the interview. “I don’t know if it was my bullets that killed him or the grenade that killed him, but I was still part of it.”
Montalvo argued Wagner’s method played on Winfield’s fears that Gibbs would harm him, suggesting that Winfield could be left in a cell with his squad leader.
“That’s tantamount to putting a gun to his head,” Montalvo said.
Army prosecutors countered that Winfield willingly participated in the Army investigation and was forthcoming in several interviews.
EVIDENCE TURNED OVER
Also Monday, Winfield’s attorney obtained the following evidence:
Photographs of the Afghan casualties that Winfield’s platoon mates kept on their computers.
An Army investigation into the command climate of Winfield’s brigade.
Another Army investigation into how Lewis-McChord officials handled the call Winfield’s father made raising concerns about the platoon.
Hawks released the documents and images to Montalvo with a protective order that prohibits him from disclosing them to others.
Until now, the Army has refused to release the photos out of concern that they could inflame sentiment against American soldiers in Afghanistan. Some of the images are reported to show American soldiers posing with Afghan casualties.