JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. — In a major boost to the case against a team of U.S. soldiers accused of setting up random murders of civilians in Afghanistan, a former high school hockey player from Alaska pleaded guilty Wednesday to three counts of premeditated murder.
Army Spc. Jeremy Morlock admitted devising "scenarios" under which civilians were snatched from Afghan villages and quickly killed with rifles and grenades. The incidents were later trumped up with prop guns and grenades to make it look as though the victims had died in a firefight.
The case marks the first murder conviction among 12 soldiers charged in a case that has drawn international attention, especially since the disclosure over the weekend of photos of soldiers from the unit posing with Afghan corpses. One showed a smiling Morlock holding up the head of a dead Afghan villager.
Morlock, 23, stands to become the most important witness in a series of prosecutions still pending against other members of the unit, including the squad leader, Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs.
Three other men from Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, deployed then to the southern Afghan province of Kandahar, stand accused of murder: Pfc. Andrew Holmes of Boise, Idaho, Spc. Michael Wagnon II of Las Vegas and Spc. Adam Winfield of Cape Coral. Seven others are accused of lesser crimes, including drug use and participation in the beating of an unpopular private suspected of threatening to tell commanders about the rampant hashish use among soldiers.
Under a plea agreement with prosecutors, Morlock was sentenced by Lt. Col. Kwasi L. Hawks to 24 years in prison. He will receive 352 days off his sentence for time served.