JBLM beating trial to begin

A Stryker sergeant linked to the Army’s “kill team” investigation will face a court-martial today on charges that he assaulted the whistle-blower who led officers to a group of rogue soldiers stationed in southern Afghanistan.

Sgt. Darren Jones, 30, of Pomona, Calif., plans to make his defense before a panel of enlisted soldiers and officers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, his attorney said.

He’s accused of joining six platoon mates in assaulting then-Pfc. Justin Stoner at Forward Operating Base Ramrod after Stoner complained about soldiers using his room to smoke hashish.

The Army alleges that Jones participated in the May 2010 beating to intimidate Stoner from talking with investigators about misconduct and suspicious killings some of his fellow soldiers are accused of carrying out during their deployment with the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

Stoner talked despite the beating, and five of his platoon mates were charged with participating in three murders. One of the accused killers, Pvt. Jeremy Morlock, pleaded guilty in March to murdering three Afghans and agreed to testify against his co-defendants.

Jones also is accused of shooting at unarmed Afghans during a patrol in March 2010. He was initially accused of smoking hashish during his deployment, but the Army dropped that charge because it couldn’t produce witnesses who said they saw Jones use illegal drugs in Afghanistan.

He appeared in court in December for a pretrial hearing at which his attorney conceded that Jones participated in the assault on Stoner, but argued that he did so for less serious reasons than the Army claims.

For one, Stoner was an outcast in his platoon and apparently disliked by some of his fellow soldiers, according to testimony at related court hearings over the past nine months.

Kevin McDermott, Jones’ attorney, asserted that the sergeant should not have been punished at a court-martial because he wasn’t a part of the conspiracies to harm Afghan noncombatants. Instead, McDermott said, Jones should have been disciplined for brawling among soldiers.

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