Army private gets 7 years for murder of unarmed Afghan teen
Another member of the Army "kill team" accused of killing unarmed Afghan civilians for sport pleaded guilty and was sentenced to seven years in prison Friday for the murder of a 15-year-old villager in southern Afghanistan.
"You aimed a fully loaded squad automatic weapon at a child that stood 15 feet away," Lt. Col. Kwasi Hawks, who presided over the case at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, said at the conclusion of Pfc. Andrew Holmes' tearful courtroom confession.
"The remorse and regret I feel is the most overwhelming emotion that I have ever endured," Holmes, 21, said of the 2010 incident, according to the Seattle Times.
Five members of the former 5th Stryker Brigade have faced murder charges in connection with what military prosecutors say were staged attacks on Afghan villagers. In the attacks, prosecutors say, U.S. soldiers fired volleys of guns and grenades at innocent people and then planted weapons to make it look as though the victims had shot first.
A picture of Holmes standing next to the corpse of the young victim was displayed prominently in the military courtroom at the conclusion of two days of hearings in which the judge took testimony to support Holmes' guilty plea and decided on a sentence.
Holmes was described by friends and family as a friendly young man who arrived in Afghanistan at the age of 18 and found himself unable to challenge or report his older squad mates, especially his team leader, Spec. Jeremy Morlock. Morlock pleaded guilty earlier this year to involvement in three killings and was sentenced to 24 years in prison.
"There is a mindset that what happens in Afghanistan stays in Afghanistan," Holmes told the judge, according to the Seattle Times.
"I do not believe that Andy has one single bone in his body that would intentionally harm an innocent person. I do believe that he was very scared over there ... so far away from home, when things began to happen that he had no control over," Laurie Brown, a longtime family friend from Boise, Idaho, wrote in a letter to the court filed on the Holmes' family's blog.
The seven-year prison term was laid out in a plea agreement; absent that, the judge said, he would have been inclined to sentence Holmes to 15 years, because the soldier appeared not to have confronted "the awful moral gravity" of what happened, according to the Tacoma News-Tribune.
Holmes admitted he fired six to eight rounds at the boy on orders and said he "regretted it ever since."
"It breaks my heart. I wish I could've stopped this whole thing," he said.
Holmes, a resident of Boise, Idaho, pleaded guilty to murder without premeditation, possession of a finger bone taken from an Afghan corpse and illegal marijuana use. According to an account distributed by the Army, he is eligible for 499 days' credit on his sentence for his time confined before trial.
-- Kim Murphy in Seattle
Photo: PFC Andrew Holmes. Credit: U.S. Army / Getty Images