SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

The World

March 24, 2011

US soldier gets 24 years for murders of 3 Afghans

(Continued)

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. —

Morlock told investigators the murder plot was led by Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, of Billings, Mont., who is charged in the case and maintains the killings were justified.

To make the killings appear justified, the soldiers planned to plant weapons near the bodies of the victims, Morlock said.

During questioning by the judge Wednesday, Morlock said he had second thoughts about the plot while home on leave in March 2010, after the first two killings took place, adding that he no longer wanted to "engage or be part of anything" like those that already had occurred.

But he didn't voice his doubts to his fellow soldiers when he returned, and he went on to participate in the third killing in May, he said.

Asked whether the plan was to shoot at people to scare them, or to shoot to kill, Morlock told the judge, "The plan was to kill people."

Earlier this week, the German news magazine Der Spiegel published three graphic photos showing Morlock and other soldiers posing with dead Afghans. One image features Morlock grinning as he lifts the head of a corpse by its hair.

Military judge Lt. Col. Kwasi Hawks said he initially intended to sentence Morlock to life in prison with possibility of parole but was bound by the plea deal.

The soldier will receive just less than two weeks short of a year off his sentence for time already served. He could be eligible for parole in about seven years, said his lead attorney, Frank Spinner.

He will be dishonorably discharged as part of his sentence.

Spinner speculated that "morale problems and discipline problems" in Morlock's brigade created an environment that contributed to the killings — an argument the defense presented in court through the testimony of sociologist and war crimes expert Stjepan Mestrovic.

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