Afghan-killing case sparks Army deals

The Army's case against a Stryker squad leader who allegedly plotted to kill civilians in Afghanistan is shaping up with deals that require some of his former platoon mates to testify against him.

Military lawyers are not surprised. They say it’s been clear the Army intended to compel soldiers to testify against Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs since August, when it was announced that a dozen soldiers from the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division at Joint Base Lewis-Mc-Chord would face charges for misconduct during their combat deployment.

Prosecutors are “counting on some guys to act as a snitch, no question,” said attorney Colby Vokey, who’s representing a soldier facing a murder charge.

Aside from Gibbs, four are accused of murdering Afghan civilians. The other seven face lesser charges.

Two soldiers in the past two weeks have reached agreements that compel them to testify against Gibbs and other codefendants. More agreements are in the works, according to prosecutors and defense attorneys.

Staff Sgt. Robert Stevens struck a deal this month that cut his maximum prison sentence from 27 years to less than 10 months. He pleaded guilty to shooting at unarmed Afghans and lying to investigators.

Spc. Justin Stoner also cut a deal that put him on the stand twice in the last two weeks to testify about the comrades who assaulted him.

Prosecutors in court this week said negotiations are taking place with Cpl. Em-mitt Quintal, who is accused of assaulting Stoner, keeping images of Afghan casualties and smoking hashish.

The Army on Friday announced that Quintal would be punished in what’s called a special court-martial. That’s relatively good news for him because he faced much more time in prison if the Army prosecuted him in a general court-martial.

In addition to Stoner, two soldiers who weren’t accused of crimes – Sgts. Eric Skinner and Michael Hefner – have secured immunity deals.

Stoner was the victim of a May assault by seven of his platoon mates now facing criminal charges. At least one of his comrades alleged that he had smoked hashish during the deployment, but he is not being tried for that offense, and he denies using drugs in Afghanistan.

Attorneys for Spcs. Jeremy Morlock and Adam Winfield also want plea deals. Each is accused of murder, and each would be able to provide first-hand testimony describing the killings that make up the heart of the case against Gibbs.

They described those incidents in May when they spoke with Army investigators, but those statements would not be admissible as evidence in a general court-martial trial.

Winfield had tried to raise concerns about Gibbs in February when he asked his father to contact the Army about suspicious killings during his platoon’s patrols. His father could not reach an Army officer who would act on his calls.

Gibbs’ attorney, Phillip Stackhouse, did not return a call for comment this week. Gibbs has denied the charges and told Army investigators that the killings took place in legitimate engagements.

Morlock’s attorney, Geoffrey Nathan, criticized the strategy of getting platoon mates to testify against each other. Next to Gibbs, Mor-lock faces the most charges of misconduct, including playing a role in all three alleged murders between January and May. He was the first of the 12 soldiers charged.

“First they prosecute them for fighting among each other,” said Nathan, referring to the May 5 assault on Stoner. “Then they cut deals to make them fight among each other.”

Attorney Gary Myers has represented soldiers accused of crimes in combat since Vietnam. He’s assisting in the defense of Pfc. Andrew Holmes, who is accused of murdering an Afghan with Gibbs and Morlock in January.

Myers said he’s not surprised about the deals negotiated so far, and their requirements that the soldiers give testimony in court.

“I’ve seen it before in every judicial forum that exists,” he said. “This is a very typical prosecutorial practice and is perfectly legitimate.”