TACOMA, Wash — Spc. Jeremy Morlock said Wednesday he lost his “moral compass” when he joined schemes to murder three Afghan civilians last year during a deployment with a Joint Base Lewis-McChord Stryker brigade.
The Alaska soldier was sentenced to 24 years in prison after pleading guilty to the killings and other misconduct. He gives the Army a key conviction in its investigation of an alleged “kill team” among the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
Morlock said knowledge of the murder conspiracy was widespread in his platoon, and a prosecutor suggested even more charges against other soldiers may follow.
It could have been worse for the 23-year-old infantryman. He faced a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole before he struck a plea deal that requires him to testify against four codefendants who stand accused of murdering the noncombatants with him.
Instead he’ll be demoted to private, forfeit his pay and could apply for parole in as soon as seven years, his attorney said.
Morlock will be a key witness against Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, who allegedly plotted to murder Afghan civilians and brought his comrades along with him. Gibbs denies the charges and is expected to face a court martial in June.
Morlock painted a damning picture of his platoon even as he expressed remorse for his role.
“The plan was to kill people,” Morlock said in recalling murder scenarios he said he plotted with Gibbs.
He told Army Judge Lt. Col. Kwasi Hawks he smoked hashish at his base in southern Afghanistan at least three times a week starting in September 2009, and he admitted beating up a private who raised concerns about drug use at the base.
“This is not us,” prosecutor Army Capt. Dre Leblanc said in condemning Morlock’s crimes. “We don’t do this. This not how we’re trained. This is not the Army.”
The platoon’s misconduct has gained international attention, more so since a German news magazine last week published a photograph of Morlock grinning over the corpse of an Afghan man he admitted killing in January 2010.
Morlock said in court that he’s had a lot of time to evaluate how he lost his way. He said he wasn’t ready for war, even though he was eager to follow in the footsteps of his father, a 20-year Army veteran who died in a boating accident a year after Morlock joined the service.
He said he was especially close to his father and regretted disgracing his legacy.
“If he had been alive when I went to Afghanistan, I know it would have made a difference,” Morlock said.
More than 20 friends and relatives attended Morlock’s court martial. They broke into sobs as Morlock apologized to the families of his victims, the comrade he beat up and his fellow soldiers.
His mother, uncle and two former mentors testified that Morlock’s crimes were out of character, and they wanted to welcome him home to Wasilla, Alaska.
“There are lots of people who would take care of Jeremy,” his mother, Audrey Morlock said in tearful testimony. “I can’t count the doors that would open for him.”
Twelve soldiers in Morlock’s platoon faced charges of wrongdoing during the deployment. Leblanc said in court that the Army might file more charges.
“This case is so expansive,” he said. “The potential for charges against soldiers other than Spc. Morlock is a strong possibility.”
Morlock said the murder schemes were common knowledge in his platoon.
“It was almost the entire platoon, give or take a handful of soldiers,” he said.