The Army won its fifth conviction Wednesday in its Afghanistan war crimes investigation at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, but defense attorneys launched an aggressive offensive against key prosecution witnesses that likely will be repeated as the case unfolds.
Spc. Corey Moore, 22, of Redondo Beach, Calif., pleaded guilty to stabbing an Afghan’s corpse during a November 2009 patrol and to participating in a group assault on the whistle-blower who raised complaints about drug use in their platoon.
Moore also was found guilty of smoking hashish during his deployment with the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
Army Judge Lt. Col. Kwasi Hawks found Moore not guilty of two other charges: trying to obstruct an Army investigation and conspiring to harm whistle-blower Pfc. Justin Stoner, who was promoted to specialist after coming home.
Hawks sentenced Moore to 60 days of hard labor and a bad-conduct discharge. That punishment is consistent with sentences the judge handed to two of Moore’s platoon mates recently convicted of similar crimes.
Moore was one of 12 members of his platoon accused of misconduct during their deployment. Five are accused of murdering three Afghan civilians.
Moore jokingly tossed his beret in the air as he left the Army courtroom Wednesday, showing his relief to be done with his trial. Some co-defendants were in court when Hawks read Moore’s sentence, lending support to a soldier they described as intelligent and well-liked.
Moore read from a written statement in court in which he apologized to Stoner and said he regretted tarnishing a family military legacy that stretches back to Pearl Harbor.
“I am more sorry than I can express,” Moore said.
His court-martial was different from ones held so far for his co-defendants in several ways.
One was the presence of co-defendants Staff Sgt. David Bram and Sgt. Darren Jones. They are accused of participating in a May assault on Stoner with the help of Moore and four others at Forward Operating Base Ramrod in southern Afghanistan.
Their appearance as spectators in court apparently rattled Stoner, who asked that they be removed from the room. The judge let Bram and Jones stay.
Another difference came when an Army captain suggested that enlisted soldiers such as Moore should be given some leeway because of the failures of the chain of command.
“It’s my opinion that what happened in their platoon was a breakdown in leadership,” said Capt. Glenn Nieradka, who had supervised Moore in the past at Lewis-McChord. “I truly believe that with different leadership … most likely we wouldn’t be here right now.”
Moore’s attorneys also took a considerably more aggressive approach with Army witnesses than other lawyers have used. That strategy likely will intensify as the stakes are raised for soldiers facing murder charges. Moore’s attorneys went on the offensive against Stoner in opening remarks, suggesting that he complained about drug use because he wanted to cut short his deployment. They also cited sworn statements his platoon mates gave to Army investigators that said Stoner smoked hashish during the combat tour.
“Pfc. Stoner’s accusations of drug use are nothing more than an effort to get out of Afghanistan,” defense attorney Capt. Vanessa Mull said.
Stoner, 21, at past hearings has denied that he used drugs in Afghanistan. He has said other soldiers smoked hashish in his room and that he complained about it because he feared being held accountable.
Moore’s attorneys also challenged the credibility of another key Army witness, Spc. Emmitt Quintal. Quintal has pleaded guilty to assaulting Stoner and smoking hashish during his tour. His plea agreement requires him to testify against his co-defendants.
Another co-defendant, Spc. Adam Kelly, called Quintal “shady” based on Quintal’s reputation in the platoon. Kelly last week was found guilty of assaulting Stoner and conspiring to harm him.
Moore’s attorneys disputed Quintal’s testimony that the soldiers smoked hashish together. The defense attorneys pointed to two drug tests Moore passed. They suggested that the soldiers might have experienced a placebo effect from what they believed was hashish but actually was something else.
Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/military