Stryker soldier's charges of murdering Afghan civilians should be dropped, investigator says

The (Tacoma) News TribuneJanuary 7, 2011 

An investigating officer has recommended that the Army drop most of its case against one of the five Stryker soldiers accused of murdering civilians in southern Afghanistan last year.

Spc. Michael Wagnon, 30, has maintained his innocence since he was confined at Joint Base Lewis-McChord amid accusations that he was part of a “kill team” in the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division that murdered civilians for sport.

In a Dec. 10 report obtained by The News Tribune, Maj. Michael Liles found that the military doesn’t have enough evidence to prosecute Wagnon for the most serious charges the Army brought against him: murder, assault, possessing fragments of a human skull and trying to destroy evidence.

Liles recommended that Wagnon be prosecuted for a conspiracy charge related to a March patrol during which soldiers in his platoon opened fire on unarmed Afghans.

“I saw no testimony or evidence that supports that Spc. Wagnon was involved in conspiracy to commit premeditated murder of Afghan noncombatants,” wrote Liles, who read hundreds of pages of court documents and presided over a three-day pre-trial hearing in late November.

Wagnon still could face a court-martial over all of the charges. Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the senior Army officer at Lewis-McChord, has the final say about whether Wagnon should be prosecuted.

Wagnon’s attorney, Colby Vokey, was pleased with the recommendation.

“I think it should send a clear message to the general that there’s not enough evidence in Wagnon’s case to go forward. Based on this, he should dismiss all the charges,” Vokey said.

Wagnon, a father of three from Las Vegas, is one of 12 soldiers from his platoon who are accused of misconduct at Forward Operating Base Ramrod. The Army obtained its second conviction in the group Wednesday when Spc. Emmitt Quintal pleaded guilty to using drugs, possessing photos of Afghan casualties and assaulting a comrade.

Wagnon stood out from among several of his codefendants because he had two combat tours behind him; comrades from those deployments had gone public with their support for him.

But on his third tour, he faced gruesome charges of murdering a noncombatant and keeping war trophies.

To read the complete article, visit www.thenewstribune.com.

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