Soldier to face judge in case of civilian slayings

The first of five Stryker soldiers accused of murdering civilians in Afghanistan will appear before a military judge Monday at Joint Base Lewis-McChord to help determine whether he’ll stand trial.

Spc. Jeremy Morlock, 22, of Wasilla, Alaska, is alleged to be one of the ringleaders in a group in the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, accused of creating scenarios to kill civilians in combat-like incidents.

He and Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs of Billings, Mont., are accused of committing three murders, as well as other charges related to alleged drug use and attempts to stifle an investigation into their platoon.

Three other soldiers allegedly had a hand in the murders, with each accused of being involved in one killing. They have denied being part of a conspiracy to kill civilians in Afghanistan, where the brigade finished a yearlong deployment this summer.

They have been in military custody since June and are scheduled to go through the same process to determine whether they’ll stand trial.

The process begins next week for Morlock with an Article 32 hearing, similar to a preliminary hearing in a civilian court. It is scheduled for one day. The Army is expected to present evidence against him, and an investigating officer will recommend whether he should go on trial.

If convicted, Morlock could face life in prison or death.

Morlock’s attorney, Michael Waddington, did not return calls for comment Thursday.

Documents filed with the officer overseeing the case suggest that Morlock described the crimes to Army investigators in May. His attorney last month told The Seattle Times that he would try to strike those statements because Morlock was taking a mix of prescription drugs that resulted in him giving “incoherent” remarks to investigators.

Charges against the soldiers have gained national attention, with headlines describing allegations that they comprised a “kill team” under Gibbs’ leadership. Gibbs, 25, joined the platoon at the heart of the case in November, and a month later reportedly began joking about how easy it would be to “toss a grenade at someone and kill them,” according to documents filed with the investigating officer.

Gibbs’ attorney, Phillip Stackhouse, has denied the allegations and said the killings took place in legitimate combat engagement. He was not available for comment Thursday.

Pfc. Andrew Holmes, 19, is accused of helping to commit the first reported murder, in January. Spc. Michael Wagnon, 30, is accused of helping commit the next one, in February. And Spc. Adam Winfield, 22, is accused of helping commit the last reported killing, in May.

Wagnon denies the charges and contends he was firing his weapon in support of his squad, said his attorney, Colby Vokey.

Winfield’s father reportedly tried to raise concerns about Gibbs before the third killing by contacting Lewis-McChord. Winfield’s attorney, Eric Montalvo, argues that Winfield did not commit the murder and was in “survival mode” because of Gibbs’ intimidation.

Holmes also denies being part of a plot to kill civilians. His attorney contends Morlock used Holmes when speaking to investigators to cover his own tracks.

Seven more soldiers in their unit – B Company of the 2nd Battalion, First Infantry Regiment – stand accused of charges stemming from an investigation into drug use in the field. They do not yet have defense attorneys, an Army spokeswoman said this week.

The 5th Brigade – since re-flagged the 2nd Brigade – deployed from Lewis-McChord to southern Afghanistan in July 2009 and weathered heavy fighting. Thirty-seven soldiers died during the deployment, and 239 were wounded.

Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646 adam.ashton@thenewstribune.com.