Spc. Jeremy Morlock, the first of five soldiers to face charges in a local military courtroom of killing Afghan civilians, will go to a full court-martial trial at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. He could be sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.
The 22-year-old Stryker brigade infantryman will not face the death penalty; whether any of his co-defendants will remains to be seen.
Lewis-McChord officials said Friday that the commanding general, Maj. Gen. John Johnson, decided this week to move forward with the case against Morlock. Johnson did so after reviewing the charges and evidence and after considering the recommendation of Morlock’s brigade commander, Col. Barry Huggins, as well as that of the staff judge advocate.
Army spokeswoman Maj. Kathy Turner said Friday that all options, including death, were on the table when Morlock’s packet was presented to Johnson. The Uniform Code of Military Justice allows for capital punishment in cases where service members are alleged to have committed murder.
“It was the (commanding general’s) decision that this not be a capital case,” Turner said, without elaborating.
That does not necessarily mean Morlock’s squadmates from the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division also will avoid the death penalty as their cases proceed.
“They are all separate, so it just depends on the outcome of their Article 32 (pretrial hearings) and the evidence that is presented,” Turner said. “Everyone is separate.”
The charges against Morlock, however, are the most serious of the group, save for those filed against Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, the squad leader described in court documents as having orchestrated the conspiracy and intimidated soldiers into taking part. Both Morlock and Gibbs are accused of having a hand in all three reported murders of Afghan civilians.
Morlock’s attorney said he’s not surprised by the court-martial decision, given the Army’s low standard of proof in advancing a murder case, but he is pleased that Johnson took the death penalty off the table.
“He’s aware of the fact that these guys were in combat, that Jeremy did in fact have physical and brain issues,” defense attorney Michael Waddington said. “I don’t think that would be the right thing to do in a case like this, and obviously (Johnson) agreed.”
Waddington maintains his client suffered from repeated combat concussions and was addled by a mix of prescription drugs at the time he made statements to Army investigators.
The attorney plans to return to his main points from the pretrial hearing, that the Army has not produced physical evidence to prove that Morlock killed civilians.
“He was there when the shootings happened, but no one has ever attributed directly to him any of these deaths, either his grenades or his bullets,” Waddington said.
The decision to go to trial was one of the last Johnson made as interim commander of local Army operations. Lt. Gen. Curtis “Mike” Scaparrotti assumed command in a ceremony Friday; Scaparrotti will have the final word on whether to pursue courts-martial against up to 11 other soldiers from Morlock’s company who are accused of various crimes.