JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. — An Army soldier accused of exhorting his bored underlings to slaughter three civilians for sport was convicted of murder, conspiracy and other charges Thursday in one of the most gruesome war crimes cases to emerge from the Afghan war.
The military jury sentenced Army Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, of Billings, Mont., to life in prison, but he will be eligible for parole in less than nine years.
Gibbs was the highest ranking of five soldiers charged in the deaths of the unarmed men during patrols in Kandahar province early last year. At his seven-day court martial at Joint Base Lewis-McChord south of Seattle, the 26-year-old acknowledged cutting fingers off corpses and yanking out a victim's tooth to keep as war trophies, "like keeping the antlers off a deer you'd shoot." But he insisted he wasn't involved in the first or third killings, and in the second he merely returned fire.
Prosecutors said Gibbs and his co-defendants knew the victims posed no danger, but dropped weapons by their dead bodies to make them appear to have been combatants.
Three of the co-defendants pleaded guilty, and two of them testified against him, portraying him as an imposing, bloodthirsty leader. Gibbs' lawyer insisted they conspired to blame him for what they had done and told the five jurors the case represented "the ultimate betrayal of an infantryman."
The jury deliberated for about four hours before convicting him.