Courts & Crime

Soldier accused of leading Afghan civilian killings to top hearings schedule

Two of the 12 soldiers awaiting hearings at Joint Base Lewis-McChord for crimes they are accused of committing in Afghanistan had their court dates postponed last week. Seven others have had their hearings delayed in recent weeks.

Defense attorneys say delays are common and that they reflect legitimate schedule conflicts or lawyers asking for more time to prepare for pre-trial hearings that will help determine whether the accused face courts-martial.

But one result of the postponements is that most of the soldiers are now scheduled to appear in court for their Article 32 hearings after Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, who allegedly devised schemes to kill Afghan civilians.

The charges against Gibbs are the most serious. Several of his codefendants claim that they participated in Gibbs’ schemes only because they were afraid of retribution.

A total of five of the 12 platoon mates are accused of murder during their 2009-10 deployment to southern Afghanistan with the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

Three Article 32 hearings that were tentatively scheduled for this week were postponed. The most recent delays involve soldiers accused of crimes such as drug use and assault, but not murder. The Army filed charges against them in late August, two months after it filed charges against the five accused of murder.

So far, only two pre-trial hearings have taken place, and none of the accused soldiers has given testimony. All 12 have been called, but each has declined to testify, citing his 5th Amendment right not to not incriminate himself.

Relatively little information has surfaced at the two public hearings in the past month. Instead, prosecutors have asked targeted questions that do not elicit much elaboration from witnesses.

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