Stryker brigade soldiers allegedly kept 'trophy' body parts

Tacoma News TribuneSeptember 9, 2010 

New details in Army charge sheets released Wednesday paint a disturbing picture of depravity, deceit and savage internal discipline involving at least 12 Stryker soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-Mc-Chord in Washington state during their recent deployment to Afghanistan.

The soldiers, all from the same company in the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, are charged with a total of 76 crimes, including the premeditated murders of three Afghan civilians and the beating of one or more fellow soldiers.

Six of the men face charges of keeping trophy body parts from Afghan corpses, including a skull and fingers, according to the charging documents.

One soldier is alleged to have stabbed a corpse last December. Three soldiers face charges of wrongfully taking and/or possessing photographs of dead bodies.

The highest-ranking member of the group, Staff Sgt. Calvin R. Gibbs, is accused of showing fingers from a corpse to a soldier in an attempt to keep him from talking to Army investigators about his and other soldiers’ alleged use of drugs.

As previously reported, Gibbs and four other soldiers from Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment face charges of murdering Afghan noncombatants and conspiracy to commit premeditated murder in Kandahar province.

The other four are Spc. Jeremy Morlock, Spc. Michael S. Wagnon II, Spc. Adam C. Winfield and Pfc. Andrew H. Holmes. All five have been confined since returning from Afghanistan.

On May 5, just a few days after the last murder, seven of the defendants allegedly went after at least one fellow soldier, apparently to keep him quiet. (The documents are blacked out in parts, so it’s unclear if one or more soldiers were attacked.)

The soldiers allegedly beat up their comrade, hitting, kicking, strangling, dragging and spitting on him.

In an alleged effort to stymie Army investigators, some of the soldiers were also charged with lying or concealing evidence. Wagnon is charged with trying to get his computer hard drive erased.

Investigators looked into reports of more Afghan civilians being shot at by six soldiers in the unit in March. Staff Sgt. Robert Stevens told investigators that the Afghans were a threat “and that he observed something that resembled a rocket propelled grenade in the possession of the individuals he fired upon.” The statement was false, according to the documents, and Stevens knew it to be false.

Stevens also is charged with throwing a grenade outside his Stryker vehicle “while there was no threat to himself or other soldiers,” which might have hurt or killed soldiers in his own unit, according to the charge sheets. In March, he claimed an enemy fighter had thrown the grenade, which was also a lie, the documents allege.

Stevens is one of the seven soldiers in the unit charged in August with 35 non-murder counts, including assault on a fellow soldier, impeding an investigation and drug use. They have not been jailed.

Morlock and Gibbs are the only soldiers charged in all three murders, which occurred separately in January, February and May. The Afghan men were killed with grenades, shot, or both.

Attempts Wednesday to reach defense attorneys for comment were unsuccessful. All 12 defendants have been assigned military counsel.

At least some of the soldiers have retained civilian attorneys. Families for both Wagnon and Morlock have set up websites to support the two soldiers and raise funds for their defense.

Gibbs alone is charged with 16 crimes and is alleged to have had a strong hand in much of the criminal activity. From Nov. 1 to May 11, Gibbs is charged with possessing “finger bones, leg bones, and a tooth from Afghan corpses.” In November or December, he is charged with soliciting another soldier to cut off the finger of a corpse.

Gibbs also was allegedly one of the seven soldiers who participated in the May 5 beating of a fellow soldier. He threatened “to kill him if he spoke about hashish use within the platoon,” according to charging documents.

On another occasion, the records allege Gibbs threatened to injure Winfield by saying : “I’m going to send you home by dropping a tow bar on you.” He allegedly urged Winfield to lie to investigators about the civilian killings and drug use in the platoon, according to the documents.

The charge sheets don’t shed light on what might have driven the soldiers to kill: whether for revenge, or for sport, or something else.

More details will likely come out at pretrial hearings to be held at Lewis-McChord later this year, similar to grand jury investigations. Both the prosecution and defense will present their cases to the hearing officer, who must decide whether to refer the cases for a full courtmartial.

Staff writer Matt Misterek contributed to this report.

THE CHARGES

-- Spc. Jeremy N. Morlock: Premeditated murder (three charges); conspiracy to commit premeditated murder; conspiracy to commit assault and battery; wrongfully endeavoring to impede an investigation; violating a lawful general order; wrongfully using a controlled substance.

-- Spc. Michael S. Wagnon II: Premeditated murder (one charge); conspiracy to commit premeditated murder; conspiracy to commit aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon; assault with a dangerous weapon; conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline; wrongfully endeavoring to impede an investigation.

-- Spc. Adam C. Winfield: Premeditated murder (one charge); conspiracy to commit premeditated murder; conspiracy to commit aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon; committing an assault with a dangerous weapon; wrongfully using a controlled substance.

-- Pfc. Andrew H. Holmes: Premeditated murder (one charge); conspiracy to commit premeditated murder; conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline; violating a lawful general order; wrongfully using a controlled substance.

-- Staff Sgt. Calvin E. Gibbs: Premeditated murder (three charges); conspiracy to commit premeditated murder; conspiracy to commit assault and battery; conspiracy to commit aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon; conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline (two charges); wrongfully endeavoring to impede an investigation (two charges); communicating a threat to injure; unlawfully striking another soldier; committing an assault with a dangerous weapon; dereliction of duty (two charges); violating a general order. (No picture available.)

-- Staff Sgt. Robert G. Stevens: Conspiracy to commit aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon; making a false official statement; aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon; wrongfully and wantonly engaging in conduct likely to cause death or bodily harm to other soldiers; dereliction of duty.

-- Staff Sgt. David D. Bram: Conspiracy to commit assault and battery; wrongfully endeavoring to impede an investigation; unlawfully striking another soldier; violating a lawful general order; dereliction of duty.

-- Sgt. Darren N. Jones: Conspiracy to commit assault and battery; conspiracy to commit aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon; unlawfully striking another soldier; committing assault with a dangerous weapon; wrongfully endeavoring to impede an investigation; wrongfully using a controlled substance.

-- Cpl. Emmitt R. Quintal: Conspiracy to commit assault and battery; wrongfully endeavoring to impede an investigation; unlawfully striking another soldier; wrongfully using a controlled substance; violating a lawful general order.

-- Spc. Adam W. Kelly: Conspiracy to commit assault and battery; unlawfully striking another soldier; wrongfully using a controlled substance; wrongfully endeavoring to impede an investigation.

-- Spc. Corey A. Moore: Conspiracy to commit assault and battery; wrongfully endeavoring to impede an investigation; conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline; unlawfully striking another soldier; wrongfully using a controlled substance.

-- Pfc. Ashton A. Moore: Conspiracy to commit aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon; assault with a dangerous weapon; wrongfully using a controlled substance.

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