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Army appeals court reduces 1 of 3 'kill team' murder convictions

TACOMA, Wash. — An Army appeals court has reduced one of the three murder charges that in 2011 sent a Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier to jail with a 24-year sentence for killing Afghan civilians.

The April 30 decision did not change Jeremy Morlock’s prison sentence. Three judges on the Army Court of Criminal Appeals wrote that Morlock’s two other murders were enough to justify his sentence.

They reduced one murder conviction to attempted premeditated murder, noting that Morlock purposely took steps to kill someone he knew was not an enemy combatant.

“These actions were not just ‘mere preparation,’ but vigorous and violent efforts to complete the underlying offense of premeditated murder,” the judges wrote.

Morlock was known as the right hand man to “kill team” ringleader Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs during their 2010 deployment to Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province with JBLM’s 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

Morlock was the Army’s main witness against Gibbs, casting Gibbs as a veteran soldier who orchestrated staged killings of young Afghans in combat-like scenarios. Gibbs was convicted of all three murders the “kill team” carried out, and is serving a life sentence in jail.

The appeals court took issue with the way Morlock of Wasilla, Alaska, pleaded guilty to the first killing, which occurred in January 2010.

Judges found that Morlock could not say for certain if he killed the victim, although the soldier’s actions created a scenario that made the Afghan’s death likely.

Morlock in his telling took a grenade that Gibbs gave him for a staged killing and brought it on a mission. Morlock testified that he and a lower-ranking soldier, Pfc. Andrew Holmes, agreed to execute one of Gibbs’ schemes that day.

Morlock saw an Afghan male approach he and Holmes. Morlock asked Holmes if he was ready to kill the Afghan. Morlock tossed the grenade in the civilian’s direction. Holmes then fired his machine gun at the Afghan.

They reported the shooting as enemy contact.

The judges wrote that Morlock in his guilty plea suggested another soldier who did not participate in the “kill team” scenarios might have been the one who dealt the fatal blow. That soldier shot the victim in the head after Morlock's grenade blast and Holmes' machine gun burst.

Morlock at his court-martial could not say which weapon killed the victim, contradicting an earlier statement in which he said the “collective actions” of he and Holmes caused the man’s death.

The judges faulted the military officer who oversaw Morlock’s court-martial for allowing the inconsistency to enter the record.

As a result of the appeals court decision, the only person convicted of premeditated murder from the January 2010 mission was Gibbs. Gibbs was not with Holmes and Morlock when they attacked the man.

Holmes is serving a seven-year sentence for killing the Afghan. He pleaded guilty in September 2011 to a charge considered less serious than homicide.

Gibbs and Morlock carried out another murder in February 2010. The "kill team's" third murder took place in May of that year.

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