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Originally published Saturday, November 20, 2010 at 1:47 PM

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Army appeals court halts prosecution of soldier in Afghanistan slaying

The Army Court of Criminal Appeals has put a temporary hold on the prosecution of Pfc. Andrew Holmes, a soldier at Joint Base Lewis-McChord who stands accused of killing an unarmed Afghan man last January.

Seattle Times staff reporter

The Army Court of Criminal Appeals has put a temporary hold on the prosecution of Pfc. Andrew Holmes, a soldier accused of killing an unarmed Afghan man last January.

The court in Virginia is responding to a motion filed by Holmes' defense counsel Daniel Conway, who argued that a restrictive order limiting access to photos of the victim violated Holmes' right to a public trial and the presentation of important evidence.

"This is quite an unusual circumstance," Conway said Saturday. "It is not very often that you see petitions to an appeals court at this stage of a proceeding, and we are pleased that the court acted so quickly. It is a very serious issue."

Conway filed the brief Thursday after the end of a two-day Article 32 hearing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord on whether there is enough evidence to proceed with a court-martial trial on the slaying and other charges.

The appeals court granted a stay Friday on the Army proceedings against Holmes, and told prosecutors to respond within 20 days to the defense counsel brief.

Holmes is one of five soldiers alleged to have been involved in the killing of three unarmed Afghans while on patrols in southern Afghanistan. The soldiers are accused of trying to cover up the incidents by making them appear to be legitimate combat deaths, and the case has drawn international media attention.

Some soldiers took photos of platoon members posing with the corpses. The Army placed a restrictive order around those images in an effort to prevent them from being publicly released and kindling anger among Afghans.

Conway has viewed some of the photos in a restricted area at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and he contends that the wounds in the corpse do not appear to have been made by Holmes' weapon.

Conway seeks to have the photos introduced as evidence at a public hearing, and then subjected to cross-examination.

"The government has failed to demonstrate an overriding interest that outweighs the value of an open and public Article 32 investigative proceeding in this case," Conway wrote in the brief he filed with the appeals court.

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or hbernton@seattletimes.com

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