By MATTHEW COLE Sept. 22, 2011
A U.S. soldier charged with participating in a plot to murder Afghan civilians for sport pled guilty to murder in a military courtroom south of Seattle Thursday.
Pfc. Andrew Holmes, of Boise, Idaho, is among five soldiers from the Army's Joint Base Lewis-McChord charged with taking part in three thrill kills in Afghanistan in 2010. Holmes pled guilty to the unpremeditated murder of the first victim, as well as to drug use and to keeping a finger bone from the victim as a souvenir. Holmes had also posed for a photo, later leaked to the media, in which he held up the head of the dead victim.
Holmes, 21, admitted to the judge that he had fired his machine gun at the victim, that he knew the man was probably innocent , and that he believed he had caused the man's death. Holmes said he didn't know in advance of the plan to attack, but fired his weapon after another of the U.S. soldiers, Cpl. Jeremy Morlock, threw a grenade at the victim.
"I didn't know what was going to happen," said Holmes, "but I had a terrible feeling that Cpl. Morlock was up to no good."
"I fired to six to eight rounds at the man, and I've regretted it ever since," he said.
The judge has not yet imposed a sentence.
Two other soldiers from what was formerly known as the 5th Stryker Brigade have already pled guilty to their roles in the thrill killings. Prosecutors allege that the soldiers set up scenarios to kill unarmed Afghans, and then planted weapons to make the killings appear justified.
In March, Jeremy Morlock pled to three counts of premeditated murder and was sentenced to 24 years in prison. In 2010, ABC News published video of Morlock describing the "kill team"'s alleged actions.
Spc. Adam Winfield, who warned his parents that soldiers in his unit were executing innocent Afghan civilians, pled guilty in August to reduced charges and was sentenced to three years in prison for his role in the third killing, which took place in May 2010. He had been charged with premeditated murder, which carries a sentence of life in prison without parole.
Both Morlock and Winfield are expected to testify against Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, who is charged with planning the execution of the three Afghan civilians.
Sgt. Gibbs and Spc. Michael S. Wagnon II, the other soldier still awaiting trial, have pled not guilty to the charges against them. Wagnon is charged with participating in a cover-up of the second killing, which occurred in February 2010, as well as conspiracy and possessing a human skull fragment.
Winfield and Morlock have told Army investigators that Gibbs developed and rehearsed the murder of unarmed Afghans and later ordered his men to help him carry them out. Lawyers for Gibbs and Wagnon have previously assailed Morlock's testimony against their clients, noting he requested investigative documents prior to testimony.
In a confession taped last year and obtained by ABC News, Morlock, of Wasilla, Alaska, admitted the team's role in the murders of three unarmed civilians, but told Army investigators that his unit's "crazy" sergeant had hatched the plan. READ: Confession Video: U.S. Soldier Describes Thrill Kill of Innocent Afghans Morlock, described how Gibbs had the men in his unit pick out civilians at random and then kill them with grenades and rifle fire. "He just really doesn't have any problems with f---ing killing these people," Morlock said, and then laid out the scenario he said the sergeant used to make it seem the civilians were killed in action.
"And so we identify a guy. Gibbs makes a comment, like, you know, you guys wanna wax this guy or what?" Morlock told investigators.
"Gibbs called it like, 'Hey you guys wanna, you guys wanna wax this guy or what?' And you know, he set it up, like, he grabbed the dude."
Morlock said that killing people came "too easy" to Gibbs. "He just really doesn't have any problems with fucking killing these, these people, to be honest."