Lewis-McChord soldier pleads guilty to murder of Afghan civilian
As part of a deal struck with prosecutors, Pfc. Andrew Holmes pleaded guilty to the murder of an Afghan civilian, saying that he fired on a young villager "who was just standing there like a deer in the headlights."
Seattle Times staff reporter
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD — Pfc. Andrew Holmes pleaded guilty Thursday to the murder of an Afghan civilian, saying he fired on a young villager "who was just standing there like a deer in the headlights."
Holmes, of Boise, Idaho, made the plea as part of a deal with Army prosecutors reached this week.
Under the terms of that agreement, Holmes pleaded not guilty to previous charges of premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
In a statement he made in court, Holmes said that there was confusion surrounding the events leading up to the killing and that he didn't intend to murder the man. Under the terms of the agreement with prosecutors, the term "premeditated" was dropped from a new murder charge. Holmes then pleaded guilty to that charge.
On the day of the killing, Jan. 15, 2010, Holmes said there were numerous signs that another soldier who told him to fire, team leader Spc. Jeremy Morlock, was up to no good. And Holmes said he regretted firing six to eight rounds in the direction of the villager.
The proposed prison term was not disclosed at the Thursday hearing before an Army judge, Lt. Col. Kwasi Hawks. The sentence will be determined Friday. Holmes is one of five soldiers initially charged with conspiracy and premeditated murder in the deaths of three Afghans last year.
They served with the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Publication of photos of Morlock and Holmes posing next to the body of the young Afghan villager helped the war-crimes case gain international notoriety.
Morlock earlier this year pleaded guilty to all three murders and received a sentence of 24 years. Another soldier, Spc. Adam Winfield, pleaded guilty to involuntarily manslaughter and received a three-year sentence.
Two other soldiers, Spc. Michael Wagnon and Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, have pending murder charges.
In pretrial hearings, Holmes' defense attorneys had maintained their client had no prior knowledge of the plans to kill the young Afghan who died in January.
In earlier hearings, defense attorneys also had attacked the credibility of Morlock, who had testified previously that Holmes did know about the plot.
At his court-martial Thursday, Holmes said Morlock had previously talked about killing an Afghan civilian. On the day of the killing, Holmes said Morlock had told him to "be ready to go" because "something might happen," and carried a grenade that could be used to stage the slaying to look like a legitimate wartime action.
Holmes said he shot from about 15 feet away and believed he hit the villager.
In court, Holmes acknowledged on Thursday that his actions displayed an inherent disregard for human life. Under military law, such actions, even without premeditation, can constitute murder, according to Holmes' defense attorney, Dan Conway. At the Thursday hearing, Holmes also pleaded guilty to other charges, including smoking hashish, When questioned in court, Holmes said he smoked the drug more than 30 times during his 2009-2010 deployment.
Holmes also pleaded guilty to possessing a finger bone taken from an Afghan corpse. After the Jan. 15 killing, Holmes said Gibbs presented him with a finger wrapped in cloth. Holmes said he didn't want to take it, but eventually did.
He kept it for a day and then disposed of it.
"I should have walked away, but I took it," Holmes said. "It would have been the right thing to do."
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