A 22-year-old soldier accused of taking a lead role in a brutal plot to murder Afghan civilians faces a court-martial Wednesday in a case that involves some of the most serious criminal allegations to arise from the U.S. war in Afghanistan.
Spc. Jeremy Morlock, of Wasilla, Alaska, has agreed to plead guilty to three counts of murder, one count of conspiracy to commit assault and battery, and one count of illegal drug use in exchange for a maximum sentence of 24 years, said Geoffrey Nathan, one of his lawyers.
His client is one of five soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord's 5th Stryker Brigade charged in the killings of three unarmed Afghan men in Kandahar province in January, February and May 2010. Morlock is the first of the five men to be court-martialed -- which Nathan characterized as an advantage.
"The first up gets the best deal," he said by phone Tuesday, noting that even under the maximum sentence, Morlock would serve no more than eight years before becoming eligible for parole.
According to a copy of the plea agreement obtained by The Associated Press, Morlock has agreed to testify against his co-defendants. In his plea deal, Morlock said he and others slaughtered the three civilians knowing that they were unarmed and posed no legitimate threat.
WHAT?!?!? For the leader of this rampage, anything less than death is a travesty. And they agreed to a bargain that will let him out in eight years? The Afghans are already outraged, and rightly so, and now our military leaders have agreed to a plea bargain that will pour gasoline on the fire?
Update: A later version of the story omits the allegation that Morlock took a "lead role." It says,
My comment that the leader deserves the death penalty stands, but I will give the prosecutors the benefit of the doubt that Morlock is not the leader. Even so, the plea bargain remains far too lenient.
"Did everybody know, `We're killing people who are completely innocent'?" the judge asked.
"Generally, yes, sir, everyone knew," Morlock replied.
Morlock told investigators the murder plot was led by Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs of Billings, Mont., who is also charged in the case; Gibbs maintains the killings were legitimate.