Admitted killer says plot included youngest soldier

A Stryker soldier who has confessed to murdering three Afghans last year testified Wednesday that he and one of his subordinates spent 10 minutes talking through the steps they’d take to kill a young farmer while they beckoned him to approach them.

Confessed killer Spc. Jeremy Morlock said in courtroom at Joint Base Lewis-McChord that Pfc. Andrew Holmes was a willing participant in a scheme to murder the Afghan during a patrol with the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

Holmes’ defense attorneys, however, argue that Morlock is using Holmes to spread blame and cover his own tracks. They say Holmes didn’t know he was participating in a staged killing until well after the January 2010 incident.

Holmes, 20, was in court for a pretrial hearing his attorney used to gather evidence in advance of an anticipated July trial. The Boise resident faces life in prison if convicted of murder.

He had a similar hearing in November. His attorney persuaded a judge to reopen the session to consider evidence that wasn’t available earlier, including Morlock’s testimony.

Also, at past hearings attorneys were prohibited from submitting photos of the victim. Those images have since appeared in magazines, effectively breaking the Army’s concealment order.

One previously published image shows Morlock grinning over the Afghan; another shows Holmes smoking a cigarette while standing over the victim.

Conway and Army prosecutors didn’t flash the photos in court, but they discussed the graphic images to argue Holmes was responsible for the killing.

Wednesday’s hearing in many ways underscored that the prosecution’s “kill team” case centers on Morlock’s testimony. He’s the only one of the five accused murderers to take the witness stand and describe the killings.

Morlock said Holmes “didn’t object” when Morlock saw a chance to put their plan in motion by isolating the young Afghan, tossing a grenade at him and claiming he was carrying the weapon.

Holmes’ job was to shoot the Afghan with an automatic machine gun.

“The way you’d pitch it was we had to fire on this guy because he had a weapon,” said Morlock, of Wasilla, Alaska.

His appearance in court was his first since his March trial when he accepted a plea agreement that requires him testify against his codefendants. He was sentenced to 24 years in prison.

Prosecutors contend that Morlock has nothing to hide in giving a “straightforward” account of the war crimes that unfolded outside of Forward Operating Base Ramrod last year.

Morlock said he came to think of Holmes as a “little brother” during their deployment – Holmes is the youngest of the accused platoon mates – and wanted to protect him from the Army’s investigation as officers learned of the killings a year ago.

Holmes’ attorneys say otherwise.

“Holmes was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and Morlock used him unwittingly as a cover story,” said Dan Conway, Holmes’ defense attorney.

One witness, Spc. Adam Kelly, said Holmes wasn’t even with Morlock until Morlock threw the grenade toward the victim.

Another soldier has said that Holmes was with Morlock for no more than 10 seconds before Morlock threw the grenade and ordered Holmes to fire.

Another soldier who was at the scene said it appeared to him that Holmes’ weapon killed the Afghan. Staff Sgt. Kris Sprague said the body was riddled with wounds, as if he’d been struck with a machine gun.