Defense attorneys representing one of the Stryker soldiers accused of murdering Afghan civilians last year intend to visit the scene of the alleged crime to gather evidence they say the Army neglected to collect.
The trip to Afghanistan could push back Spc. Michael Wagnon’s court-martial at Joint Base Lewis-Mc-Chord, which on Thursday was scheduled for May 23.
Wagnon, 30, is charged with participating in a February 2010 murder during a patrol in southern Afghanistan. The Army argues that Wagnon knew the killing was staged by one of his comrades, Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs. Wagnon says he fired his rifle because he believed his unit was under attack.
Gibbs, Wagnon and three others in the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division face murder charges for their alleged roles in killing three Afghan civilians between January and May.
Wagnon appeared in court Thursday for an arraignment. His civilian attorney, Colby Vokey, told judge Lt. Col. Kwasi Hawks that the defense would push to visit the scene of the shooting.
“You cannot understate the value of walking the ground of the case,” Vokey said after the hearing. “Sometimes going to see the scene you don’t even know what you’re missing until you go there.”
Vokey said the Army does not have physical evidence linking Wagnon to the shooting. Officers who investigated the case have said at pretrial hearings that they could not get to the scene of the February killing when they started looking into murder allegations three months later.
Army prosecutor Capt. Dre Leblanc said visiting the site in the village of Khari Kleyl could prove to be difficult.
“That’s going to be extraordinarily problematic,” he said in court Thursday. “The area is not currently patrolled by coalition forces.”