US soldier faces court martial over Afghan killings

Image caption,
Cpl Morlock (centre) faces a maximum sentence of life in prison with no parole if convicted

A US soldier charged with murdering Afghan civilians is to face a court martial, the US Army has said.

Cpl Jeremy Morlock is one of five soldiers accused of the premeditated murder of three Afghan civilians earlier this year.

All five deny the charges. Another seven soldiers from the same unit have been charged with conspiracy to cover up the alleged murders.

The army said that Cpl Morlock faces a maximum life sentence if convicted.

The charge of premeditated murder carries the possibility of the death sentence but the army had decided not to press for this sentence, spokeswoman Major Kathleen Turner said.

The murders are alleged to have taken place between January and May this year when Cpl Morlock's unit was deployed in Kandahar province, in southern Afghanistan.

The five accused of murder allegedly threw grenades and opened fire on civilians in unprovoked assaults while the other seven are accused of dismembering the victims and collecting body parts.

The soldiers are all from the army's 5th Stryker brigade, which deployed to Afghanistan in 2009 and saw heavy fighting around Kandahar.

'Rogue platoon'

In a pre-trial hearing last month, Cpl Morlock's civilian lawyer said there was little physical evidence linking the soldier to the crimes.

The lawyer, Michael Waddington, said Cpl Morlock had co-operated with investigators and suffered from concussions sustained during combat in Afghanistan.

Both may have been factors in the court martial not seeking the maximum possible sentence of death, he said.

Army investigators say that in interviews conducted in May, Cpl Morlock detailed the alleged murders, which he said were organised by his unit's leader, Sgt Calvin Gibbs.

Military prosecutors say Cpl Morlock acted as an assistant to Sgt Gibbs in the murders and helped enlist three other soldiers to carry them out.

Mr Waddington said he would seek to have Cpl Morlock's statements to army investigators suppressed on the grounds that they were given while under heavy medication for his battle injuries.

He said the three Afghan civilians were victims of a "rogue platoon running around killing people," and that Cpl Morlock, though present, "did not cause the deaths of any of these individuals".

Maj Turner said no decision had been made on whether to send the other four soldiers accused of murder, including Sgt Gibbs, to trial.

A lawyer for Sgt Gibbs said he denied the murders and that the deaths of the civilians were all the result of legitimate engagements.

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