Stryker brigade soldiers Pfc. Andrew Holmes and Spc. Jeremy Morlock took a knee behind a wall and talked while an Afghan farmer Morlock had called over walked toward them from a nearby poppy field.
At that moment on Jan. 15, Army prosecutors contend, the two soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord agreed to carry out a scheme to kill the civilian outside a village in southern Afghanistan.
Morlock threw the grenade; Holmes shot at the man with a machine gun. Prosecutors say the soldiers staged it to look like a combat incident, but that it was really cold-blooded murder.
That killing of a noncombatant was the first of three that a small group of soldiers from the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division is charged with committing between January and May.
Holmes, 20, could face life in prison if an investigating officer who oversaw a fact-finding hearing Monday and Tuesday sides with prosecutors and recommends that Holmes face a full court-martial trial.
His attorney argues that Holmes had heard talk from Morlock about murder scenarios, but that Holmes had no idea one was taking place when Morlock yelled “He’s got a grenade” and ordered Holmes to fire at the Afghan coming out of the field.
“Those scenarios are so outlandish that only a complete psychopath would (a) think anybody would actually go through with them and (b) actually go through with them,” defense attorney Dan Conway said in his closing argument Tuesday.
Prosecutors counter that Morlock told investigators that Holmes knew the killing was staged and that Holmes said as much when he recounted the incident to his platoon mates.
Conway and an Army investigator who led the probe sparred over Morlock’s credibility. Morlock was taking pain medication during his first interview with Army investigators, and he has acknowledged smoking hashish during his deployment.
Conway also called two of Morlock’s platoon mates to testify; both said the soldier was “shady.”
But Army Special Agent Anderson Wagner believed Morlock’s accounts because he implicated himself and seemed open about his role in the schemes.
Holmes told investigators he was fearful of Morlock, but Wagner said they seemed close.
Holmes “said he had this relationship out of fear, and when I saw them meet, they hug each other, they say they love each other,” Wagner remembered. “That’s a big indicator to me that he was lying.”
Army prosecutor Capt. Dan Mazzone said Holmes still could be culpable for the Afghan’s death even if his bullets didn’t kill the man, because Holmes was aware of the scheme and chose to participate in it.
Spc. Ryan Mallett, who witnessed the January killing, testified Monday that it did not appear staged at the time and said the body did not appear to have been struck by Holmes’ machine gun.
Mallett said he saw Morlock and Holmes confer for a moment when the Afghan approached.
He heard Morlock yell “He’s got a grenade” and order Holmes to fire.
He saw Holmes fire the machine gun from above a 5-foot wall and then duck as Morlock grabbed him and threw a grenade.
Mallett said Holmes “looked kind of shocked by how fast it happened” after the grenade exploded. Morlock looked “in control,” Mallett said.
Mallett, who shared living quarters with Holmes in Afghanistan, patted his former roommate on the shoulder when he entered the courtroom Monday.
Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/military