Courts & Crime

Prosecutors: Soldier was 'eager participant' in Afghan killings

A Stryker vehicle on patrol.
A Stryker vehicle on patrol. Steve Lannen/Lexington Herald-Leader/MCT

A Stryker brigade soldier accused of murdering Afghan civilians made regular use of narcotics during his deployment and was fearful of his squad leader who persuaded others to participate in schemes to kill people in combat-like situations, his attorney argued in a pre-trial hearing Monday.

Army prosecutors countered that the soldier was a "right-hand man" and an "eager participant."

Spc. Jeremy Morlock of the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division could face life in prison if he goes to trial for the three murders in which he allegedly had a hand. The presiding officer said Monday that he will decide "in my own time" whether to recommend a full court-martial.

The arguments against the 22-year-old soldier, which wrapped up Monday evening, were the first chapter in a nationally watched legal drama set to unfold at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, with as many as a dozen infantrymen cast as rogues. Monday also showed how prosecutors have their work cut out for them in the weeks ahead. Fourteen witnesses refused to testify, and Army investigators acknowledged that key evidence remains buried with the alleged victims in southern Afghanistan.

Morlock's own confessions to investigators in May make up the heart of the government's case. In them, he outlines how Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs devised scenarios to murder civilians, and the role Morlock played in carrying out three slayings between January and May.

In all, five soldiers including Gibbs and Morlock are accused of committing premeditated murder, and the other four are expected to have similar hearings in the weeks ahead. Seven other soldiers have been charged with lesser crimes.

Their unit had easy access to powerful hashish and opium from Afghan civilians, interpreters and guards. Morlock frequently used the drugs, clouding his judgment and making him more susceptible to Gibbs, Morlock's attorney said.

Morlock sat through the hearing next to his three lawyers, turning around to talk with his mother during breaks. Six relatives joined the Alaska soldier in court at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

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