Lewis-McChord soldier gets 7-year sentence for murder of Afghan
Pfc. Andrew Holmes on Friday received a seven-year prison sentence for the January 2010 murder of a teenage villager in southern Afghanistan.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Pfc. Andrew Holmes on Friday received a seven-year sentence for the 2010 murder of a teenage villager in southern Afghanistan.
"The remorse and regret I feel is the most overwhelming emotion that I have ever endured," Holmes said Friday in tearful remarks before the sentencing. "This feeling has never subsided in the 21 months since it occurred."
Holmes was 19 at the time of the killing and is the youngest of five Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers accused of taking part in the murder of three Afghans while on 2010 patrols with their platoon from the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
In the two-day court-martial, Holmes acknowledged shooting six to eight rounds from his automatic weapon at the 15-year-old villager — who was unarmed and, Holmes said, "stood like a deer in the headlights."
Holmes said he did not plan to murder the youth and instead acknowledged that he had engaged in a wantonly reckless act. Under military law, such acts can constitute murder.
In closing arguments, a prosecutor, Maj. Rob Stelle, pointed to a blown-up picture of Holmes standing next to the corpse. Stelle said it made him sick to look at that picture and the American flag on Holmes' uniform. "He knew that man was unarmed ... and he knew that he was not engaged in a hostile act," Stelle said.
The publication of that photo and those of a second soldier with a bloody corpse has brought international attention to the war-crimes cases.
The sentencing followed a plea deal reached with prosecutors earlier this week. If the case had gone to trial, Holmes, if found guilty, would have faced a life sentence.
At the sentencing, Army judge Lt. Col. Kwasi Hawks said he had no doubt that Holmes was a "decent young man," but that "wrong was wrong," and Holmes murdered "a child."
Hawks called for a 15-year sentence. But the plea deal called for no more than seven years, and under military law, Holmes received the lower of the two.
Holmes will receive credit for nearly 500 days already served. His defense attorneys hope that the 21-year-old Holmes, with credit for good conduct, could be released from prison by the time he is 25.
In his statement to the court, Holmes said he had to serve under a "psychopathic" team leader, Spc. Jeremy Morlock.
Morlock earlier this year pleaded guilty to taking part in all three of the murders and was sentenced to 24 years in prison.
"He was the kind of leader who made me eat dirt, just to eat dirt," Holmes said.
Holmes acknowledged that he had heard Morlock talk about scenarios for killing Afghan villagers. He also acknowledged that Morlock, on the day of the murder, had grabbed a grenade that could be planted on a body to make a murder look like a legitimate battlefield killing.
Holmes said there is "no easy answer" to why he didn't report Morlock to his superior.
"There is a mindset that what happens in Afghanistan stays in Afghanistan," Holmes said.
Earlier this year, Spc. Adam Winfield received a three-year sentence as part of plea deal to manslaughter for his role in the killing of an Afghan villager in May 2010.
Two other soldiers, Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs and Spc. Michael Wagnon, still face murder charges.
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