Pfc. Andrew Holmes was sentenced to seven years in prison Friday for murdering an Afghan teenager last year, despite his assertion that he was following a higher-ranking soldier’s order when he shot the boy.
Army Judge Lt. Col. Kwasi Hawks initially announced a sentence of 15 years in jail – 11/2 years more than prosecutors requested. But the Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier from Boise, Idaho, negotiated a plea deal before the court-martial that capped his punishment at seven years.
Holmes, 21, also will be demoted to private, forfeit his pay and receive a dishonorable discharge when he completes his time in jail.
He’ll receive nearly 500 days’ credit against his jail sentence because of the time he has spent in confinement since the Army launched its “kill team” investigation in May 2010. He could be out of jail by the time he turns 25 with credit for good conduct, his attorney said.
Holmes was the youngest of five soldiers from Lewis-McChord’s 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division who allegedly murdered Afghan civilians in faked combat scenarios during their deployment last year. Two have accepted plea deals in addition to Holmes, and two more are awaiting courts-martial.
The judge’s sentence elicited tears from Holmes’ mother, Dana, who sat behind her son in court. Earlier in the day, she pleaded for mercy, arguing that her son felt remorse and would find support back home in Boise.
“I hope this court will see (Holmes) for the man he is and the situation he was in, and just let him live a full and useful life,” his mother said on the witness stand.
Hawks did not appear persuaded that Holmes had accepted responsibility for causing the death of 15-year-old Gul Mudin.
Holmes laid much of the blame for the boy’s death on Pvt. Jeremy Morlock, who was Holmes’ direct supervisor on combat patrols. Holmes knew Morlock had talked about killing Afghans for fun, and he was aware Morlock was looking for an opportunity to carry out one of his schemes.
Morlock threw a grenade at the Afghan and ordered Holmes to shoot his automatic machine gun as the boy stood in a poppy field like “a deer in headlights,” Holmes said.
“There is no doubt in my mind that Jeremy Morlock is a psychopath,” Holmes said.
Morlock has pleaded guilty to murdering three Afghans and is serving a 24-year prison sentence. He provided the Army much of the evidence against Holmes.
Holmes said his real error was not reporting Morlock’s schemes when he first heard them in December 2009.
“It breaks my heart,” he said. “I wish I could’ve stopped this whole thing.”
Army prosecutors acknowledged that Holmes appeared remorseful as he tearfully sought mercy in court, but they contended he deserved a stiff sentence to send a message that the military would not tolerate the intentional killing of noncombatants.
Prosecutor Maj. Rob Stelle argued that Holmes should spend a day in jail for each American service member who has died in Iraq or Afghanistan; Stelle said the teenager’s murder set back the U.S. military’s mission to win over hearts and minds in those countries.
“It was callous, reckless indifference – a depraved heart,” Stelle said. “The accused had a choice. He pulled the trigger and ended that man’s life.”
Hawks had similarly blunt words for the young soldier.
“You aimed a fully loaded squad automatic weapon at a child that stood 15 feet away,” the judge said.
Hawks prefaced his sentence by telling Holmes he appeared to be a decent, good human being who made the wrong decision in a crucial moment.
“I hope and I believe you will have a long and productive life, and I believe a happy life,” he said. “I also hope you will confront the awful moral gravity” of the murder.
After the hearing, Holmes’ father said he was disappointed in the sentence, though he thought Hawks was a fair judge.
“In a big sense, it’s a relief,” said Forest Holmes of Pocatello, Idaho. “We can now move forward.”
About a dozen friends and family members joined Holmes in court for a second straight day. They shared long hugs during court breaks, and sobbed together after the soldier received his sentence.
“His family is right there with him,” Forest Holmes said. “We’re not going to walk away. He’s my kid. He’s his mom’s son.”
Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646 email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/military