Three Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers convicted of crimes and ordered kicked out of the Army in connection with a yearlong investigation into alleged civilian murders in Afghanistan continue to wear the Army uniform and draw military pay.
And they probably will until the last of their codefendants goes on trial this fall, Army I Corps spokesman Maj. Chris Ophardt said.
The three are key witnesses against the six remaining soldiers accused of taking part in the killings or other crimes tied to their Stryker brigade deployment last year.
Two of the soldiers given bad-conduct discharges, Spcs. Adam Kelly and Corey Moore, were convicted at courts-martial. The third, Spc. Emmitt Quintal, pleaded guilty in a deal with prosecutors.
It’s up to Lewis-McChord’s senior Army officer to decide when to sign their discharge papers. They can be ordered to testify as long as they’re in the military. If they refuse, they’d face more charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
The three, plus two other soldiers who reached plea agreements with the Army, are seen regularly at hearings for their codefendants at Lewis-McChord. The deals they signed require them to testify when called.
A total of 12 platoonmates originally faced courts-martial because of alleged crimes, ranging from drug use to beating up a whistleblower, during their deployment to Afghanistan last year with the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. Five allegedly killed Afghan noncombatants in staged deaths.
The soldiers who fought the cases against them have tended to give less predictable testimony than defendants who cooperated with investigators.
Kelly and Moore in February and March were convicted of misconduct in their Stryker platoon. Each was ordered discharged from the Army and sentenced to hard labor. They’re still in uniform, and they haven’t begun the hard labor part of their punishment.
Moore remains close to his codefendants, and his testimony has laid much of the blame for the killings on the prosecution’s main witness, Pvt. Jeremy Morlock. Morlock pleaded guilty in March to murdering three Afghans and agreed to testify against the other accused soldiers. He was sentenced to 24 years in prison but remains in the Army.
Last month, Kelly sprung new details about a January 2010 shooting on prosecutors at a pretrial hearing for accused killer Pfc. Andrew Holmes.
Kelly testified that Morlock buried grenade pins after tossing an explosive at an Afghan he allegedly murdered with Holmes. That was new information to attorneys who’ve worked the case for nearly a year.
Kelly said he shared it then because he hadn’t been asked about it before.
“What else haven’t we asked that you need to come forward and tell us today?” prosecutor Capt. Dan Mazzone asked Kelly.
Mazzone went on to describe Kelly’s conviction for assaulting a soldier who blew the whistle on drug use in their platoon.
“You don’t like snitches, is that what it comes down to?” Mazzone asked.
“I suppose so,” said Kelly, 26.
Prosecutors are lining up the remaining trials to make all of the defendants available to testify at the court-martial of Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, who’s accused of creating scenarios to murder civilians and keeping body parts as war trophies. Gibbs denies the charges.
The trial order is important because accused soldiers likely would refuse to testify until their cases are closed and they have immunity deals to protect them from further prosecution, defense attorney Eric Montalvo said in court last week. Six trials have yet to take place.
The murder cases generally hinge on Morlock’s testimony. He says each of the three killings involved him, Gibbs and a third soldier – Pfc. Holmes in one case, Spc. Michael Wagnon in another, and Spc. Adam Winfield in the last killing.
Holmes and Wagnon say they shot at Afghans because they thought they were under attack; Winfield told investigators he knew his incident was staged but said he joined in it out of fear of Gibbs.
Montalvo, Winfield’s attorney, contends that only Gibbs can settle the differences between Morlock’s account and the others.
“We can’t derive it from anyone else,” he said, arguing that Winfield should appear in court after Gibbs, or Gibbs should be ordered to testify in Winfield’s case.
Army Judge Lt. Col. Kwasi Hawks said it’s up to the prosecution to determine the trial order but said he’d consider delaying Winfield’s trial to accommodate Gibbs’ testimony.
Gibbs’ defense attorney, Phil Stackhouse, said he expects Gibbs’ trial to take place last. The order could flip if prosecutors decide they want Gibbs’ testimony in court for the other accused killers.
Gibbs “could certainly provide information” for those cases, Stackhouse said.