Family of soldier accused of killing Afghan civilians is skeptical of charges

The (Tacoma) News TribuneOctober 18, 2010 

Soldiers who fought in Iraq alongside Spc. Michael Wagnon don’t recognize their friend when they read reports of his alleged role in a plot to kill civilians while deployed in Afghanistan this year with a Joint Base Lewis-McChord Stryker brigade.

They knew him as a professional who did “the right thing,” mentored young soldiers and kept his comrades alive.

“The only way Michael would even shoot, let alone use deadly force, is if he felt his fellow buddies were in danger of losing their lives. It just kills me,” said David Downing, 27, an Oklahoma veteran who fought with Wagnon in Iraq six years ago during a rough deployment marked by persistent roadside bombings.

Yet Wagnon is among five soldiers in confinement at the base south of Tacoma awaiting trials on charges that they murdered civilians while deployed to southern Afghanistan with the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

He could face life in prison, or possibly even the death penalty, if he goes to trial for his alleged role in a February killing of an Afghan civilian. Seven more soldiers from his platoon face other charges, such as using drugs during their assignment and beating up another soldier.

Friends have rallied to show their support for Wagnon, writing letters to appeal for his release from a military jail and posting their testimonies to a website, defendmichaelwagnon.com.

They’ve been more public in their advocacy for Wagnon than supporters of the other soldiers accused of crimes at Lewis- McChord. Some plan to attend a pre-trial hearing later this fall in which Wagnon is expected to appear before an investigating officer at the base.

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