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Article 32 hearing for accused soldier concludes

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • NEW: Army officials to decide whether to court-martial Pfc. Andrew Holmes
  • NEW: Defense suggests Army was concerned with public relations
  • Holmes is one of five soldiers accused of killing Afghans for sport
  • Soldiers are also accused of mutilating corpses and keeping grisly souvenirs

(CNN) -- A military prosecutor handling the case of a soldier accused of killing Afghan civilians for amusement simply read the charges against Pfc. Andrew Holmes as his closing argument, adding that there was ample evidence to proceed to a court martial.

Holmes is charged with the premeditated deaths of three Afghan civilians, smoking hashish, possessing a dismembered human finger and wrongfully possessing photographs of human casualties. He is also accused of conspiring with Spc. Jeremy Morlock to shoot at a civilian and then toss a grenade so it would look like the soldiers were under attack.

Holmes attorney, Daniel Conway, argued that the government's case did not prove premeditation or conspiracy. He accused the prosecution of taking statements out of context and relying on the testimony of Morlock, who had a previous criminal record and brain damage.

Conway also said he intended to appeal the denial of his request to include photographs of the civilian Holmes is accused of killing. He said the photos would prove Holmes did not kill the man.

Testimony in the Holmes' Article 32 hearing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington concluded with an Army Criminal Investigation Command agent's telephone testimony from Afghanistan.

Conway suggested during Special Agent Anderson Wagner's testimony that the Army was overly concerned with public relations and that prevented investigators from visiting the site of the killing allegedly committed by Holmes. Wagner said logistics prevented the site visit.

Wagner also said that the Army is still investigating the case. Holmes is one of five U.S. soldiers from the 5th Stryker Brigade accused of killing civilians for sport and staging the deaths to look like legitimate war casualties.

In all, officials charged 12 U.S. soldiers in what they called a conspiracy to murder Afghan civilians and cover it up, along with charges they mutilated corpses and kept grisly souvenirs. Five of the soldiers face murder charges, while seven others are charged with participating in a coverup.

Military officials will determine if there is enough evidence to court martial Pfc. Andrew Holmes over the allegedly premeditated deaths of an Afghan civilian.

On Monday, Spc. Ryan Mallett testified that he was on patrol with Holmes and Morlock in January when more than 20 soldiers were taking part in an operation to gather intelligence in an Afghan village.

He testified that Holmes and Morlock gestured to an Afghan farmer working in a field with about eight other farmers to come closer so they could question him. Mallett said he saw the soldiers have the man raise his shirt to prove he didn't have any weapons.

That's when Mallett heard Morlock yell, "He's got a grenade, Holmes, shoot him," Mallett testified.

"I saw him [Holmes] shoot. I couldn't tell if he hit him. There were little pockmarks on the wall. I saw the grenade go off," Mallett testified.

Mallett said Morlock and Holmes ducked behind a wall to avoid the grenade blast.

Morlock was the first of the five to face an Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a grand jury hearing, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Morlock is charged with three counts of murder. He is accused of killing Afghan civilian Gul Mudin in January with a grenade and rifle; killing civilian Mullah Adahdad in May in a similar manner; and shooting to death Marach Agha in February.

All of the accused men were members of a 2nd Infantry Division brigade operating near Kandahar in southern Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010.

The three others facing murder charges are Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, of Billings, Montana; Adam Winfield, of Cape Coral, Florida; and Spc. Michael Wagnon, of Las Vegas, Nevada.

Authorities allege Gibbs kept finger bones, leg bones and a tooth from Afghan corpses. Wagnon allegedly kept a skull from a corpse, according to charging documents.

Several soldiers are charged with taking pictures of the corpses, and one soldier is charged with with stabbing a corpse.

During a break in the hearing Monday, Conway told journalists, "The government, as they often do in some these of cases, casts a net entirely too wide."

The Army refuses to comment on any aspect of any of the cases and has sought to limit circulation of evidence, especially since videotaped interrogations of some of the soldiers and alleged written confessions by some soldiers were obtained and reported by media outlets, including CNN.

But it was the Army's own charging documents that portrayed a platoon gone rogue. In explicit detail, the Army wrote how killings were staged -- how a fellow soldier was beaten and how Gibbs allegedly threw human fingers at another soldier believed to have snitched about the group's hashish smoking.

The Army moved to restrict attorney access to what has been described to CNN by some who have seen them as a series of gruesome photos of dead Afghans by allowing inspection of the material only at a secure facility at Lewis-McChord.

A number of attorneys have objected, telling CNN the Army is limiting their ability to defend their clients because it is more concerned how the charges are being played in the media and perceived in Afghanistan.

CNN's Patrick Oppmann, Barbara Starr, Drew Griffin, Kathleen Johnston, Todd Schwarzschild and Courtney Yager contributed to this report.