Jury finds Stryker sergeant guilty on all 'kill team' charges

Tacoma News TribuneNovember 10, 2011 

A Joint Base Lewis-McChord sergeant will spend the rest of his life in jail for abusing his leadership position and persuading junior soldiers to join him in plots to murder Afghan civilians in combat-like engagements last year.

Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs’ conviction Thursday affirms the Army’s depiction of him as a cold-blooded murderer who called Afghans “dirty savages” and openly cut fingers from corpses to bind his collaborators into a rogue “kill team.”

He was found guilty of 15 criminal charges, including three murders. The murders carry a minimum sentence of life in prison.

Gibbs appeared shocked as the jury forewoman read the verdict. His wife, Chelsy, sobbed. A sentencing session is under way in which Gibbs could win the possibility of parole.

Jurors deliberated for about five hours today, their eighth day in court.

Gibbs, 26, fought the charges, arguing he was framed by pot smoking junior soldiers who shifted blame to him for their crimes in exchange for lighter punishment from the Army. He insisted he thought the killings took place in legitimate combat in enemy territory.

But Gibbs couldn’t overcome layered testimony from his platoon mates. A five-soldier jury panel made up of three officers and two senior noncommissioned officers did not buy his defense.

“Staff Sgt. Gibbs betrayed his oath. He betrayed his unit, and with the flag of his nation blazoned across his chest thousands of miles from home, he betrayed his nation,” prosecutor Maj. Rob Stelle said Wednesday.

Gibbs was one of a dozen soldiers from Lewis-McChord’s 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division who came home a month early from their deployment accused of misconduct ranging from assaulting a private to stabbing a corpse.

Five of them including Gibbs were accused of murdering civilians. Three of those soldiers had pleaded guilty to the murders before Gibbs’ trial, and they testified at his court-martial. The fifth alleged “kill team” participant, Spc. Michael Wagnon, is expected to face his court-martial in January.

News of their crimes circled around the world, gaining notoriety in March when Rolling Stone and Der Spiegel magazines published photographs of two of the murderers posing with the corpse of the teenage boy they killed in January 2010. Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the images that month.

Gibbs was a veteran of two combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan when he joined an infantry platoon at Forward Operating Base Ramrod three months into its deployment.

He stood out in the short-manned platoon, giving the impression he was a squared-away veteran who would keep his soldiers safe as they patrolled hostile territory.

The Army alleges he took advantage of weak leadership in the platoon to recruit soldiers for his schemes. He found willing participants who carried out one killing without Gibbs, but the Army contends Gibbs was the source of homicides.

“People didn’t start dying until Staff Sgt. Gibbs arrived,” Stelle said.

Read more on the Stryker trials at thenewstribune.com

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