An Army investigating officer this week recommended that a Stryker soldier accused of killing three civilians in Afghanistan should go to trial to face the charges.
Col. Thomas Molloy's recommendation does not guarantee that Spc. Jeremy Morlock will go to a court martial trial, where he could face the death penalty. That decision is up to 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division commander Col. Barry Huggins, and it is expected within the next few weeks.
"A final decision has not been made," said Maj. Kathleen Turner, an Army spokeswoman at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Morlock is one of five 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division soldiers at Lewis-McChord who stand accused of killing civilians on their recent deployment to southern Afghanistan. Their unit was re-flagged as the 2nd Brigade when it came home.
The men accused of murder allegedly carried out scenarios to kill Afghans in combat-like situations. They have denied the charges, and they await hearings before investigating officers like Molloy.
Morlock, 22, last week appeared before Molloy for a hearing where his attorneys sought to discredit statements Morlock gave to Army investigators in May when he confessed to the killings. His attorneys painted him as intimidated by Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, a squad leader who allegedly devised the kill scenarios. Gibbs is among the five accused of murder.
Morlock's attorneys also tried to cast doubt on the Army's evidence, repeatedly drawing attention to the inability of investigators to collect physical evidence connecting Morlock to a specific death.
Molloy, however, found that Morlock's May statements provided enough evidence to put the soldier on trial for participating in the killings.
The investigating officer was not swayed by defense arguments that Morlock had poor judgment during his deployment and during his interviews with Army investigators because he was taking a "cocktail" of prescription drugs to help him deal with four concussions he received in combat.
"During the times alleged in the charges, Spc. Morlock functioned as a team leader for a dismounted infantry squad, then carrying the designation of corporal, a leader," Molloy wrote. "In the eyes of his leaders and fellow soldiers, he was an effective, reliable, engaged team leader. The undersigned found no evidence that the accused was behaving in an erratic, impaired or irrational manner — as an intoxicated person would — at the time of the alleged offenses."
Geoffrey Nathan, one of Morlock's civilian attorneys, contends Morlock's statements won't hold up if the case goes to trial. He says investigators did not give Morlock an attorney when he asked to consult with one, and that Morlock was allowed to continue taking prescription drugs for pain relief during his interview with Army investigators, further impairing his judgment.
"I didn't expect this at all," Nathan said. "This was a very thorough hearing. We won the hearing. I don't understand how this could go any further on a murder charge for which there is no weapon, no body and nothing except a highly questionable statement from Morlock."
Morlock also is accused of violating a general order by keeping pictures of Afghan casualties, assaulting a fellow soldier and using hashish while he was deployed. Molloy determined that there was enough evidence to put Morlock on trial for those charges.