JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash., March 24 (UPI) -- A U.S. soldier accused of killing Afghan civilians for sport received 24 years in prison after he pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against other defendants.
Spc. Jeremy Morlock, one of five soldiers from an Army Stryker armored fighting vehicle brigade from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in southwest Washington state accused of staging combat situations to kill three civilians in Afghanistan last year, told Army Judge Lt. Col. Kwasi Hawks the deaths were neither justified nor accidental.
"The plan was to kill people, sir," Morlock said at the start of a court-martial, in which Morlock pleaded guilty to three counts of premeditated murder, conspiracy to commit murder and assault.
His platoon served in southern Afghanistan from summer 2009 to summer 2010.
Morlock, 22, of Wasilla, Alaska, would have been sentenced to life in prison, based on military sentencing guidelines, but a January plea bargain forged during lengthy negotiations with prosecutors resulted in the lesser sentence and an agreement for Morlock to testify against other soldiers Morlock alleged were co-conspirators, The Seattle Times said.
They include Morlock's superior, Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, who Morlock alleged was the ringleader. A Gibbs lawyer has said all the killings were in justified combat situations.
With credit for nearly a year already served, Morlock could be eligible for parole in seven years, Morlock's lawyers said.
The war crimes case received global publicity this week when Germany's Der Spiegel published graphic photos that included a shot of a smiling Morlock posing next to the corpse of one of the Afghan victims. A separate image showed another platoon member posed with the corpse.
"I violated not only the law but the Army core values, and I also violated the principles my (Army veteran) father instilled in me," Morlock told the court, adding that he had "lost my moral compass."