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Soldier in Afghan deaths case waives hearing

A U.S. soldier who told his family of an alleged plot to kill Afghan civilians for kicks — only to be charged in the case later — has waived his right to a preliminary hearing.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A U.S. soldier who told his family of an alleged plot to kill Afghan civilians for kicks — only to be charged in the case later — has waived his right to a preliminary hearing, meaning his case will likely go straight to military trial, his lawyer said Wednesday.

Spc. Adam Winfield of Cape Coral, Fla., is one of five soldiers charged in the deaths of three civilians during patrols in Kandahar Province this year.

Prosecutors said he willingly participated in the final killing, but his lawyer, Eric Montalvo, has argued that Winfield feared he'd be killed by one of his co-defendants if he didn't follow an order to shoot at the victim.

Duress is not a legal defense to a murder charge.

Winfield was set to have an Article 32 hearing next Tuesday at Joint Base Lewis-McChord south of Seattle to help decide whether there's enough evidence for a court martial. But he waived it because "it would have been a waste of time," Montalvo said. He said he and prosecutors have already discussed the case during plea negotiations and each side is aware of the other's legal position.

If a plea agreement can't be reached, Winfield would refuse to testify against any of his co-defendants, Montalvo said.

"We're trying to resolve this in a way that allows Adam to help the government convict those we believe to be truly responsible," Montalvo said. "As of today those efforts have failed."

Winfield, 22, told his parents in Internet messages on Feb. 14 that members of his unit had deliberately killed a civilian — "some innocent guy about my age just farming" — and planned to kill more. His colleagues threatened him to keep quiet, Winfield wrote, according to copies of the messages provided to The Associated Press.

He also told his parents he didn't know what he should do: "Should I do the right thing and put myself in danger for it. Or just shut up and deal with it," he wrote. "There are no more good men left here. It eats away at my conscience every day."

His father, a former Marine named Chris Winfield, made several calls to Joint Base Lewis-McChord that day and said he asked the Army to intervene on his son's behalf. His phone records show a 12-minute call with someone at the base, and Chris Winfield said he was told that unless his son was willing to come forward while in Afghanistan, he should keep his head down and report his allegations once the deployment ended.

The Army is investigating how that call was handled.

The second killing occurred about a week after Chris Winfield's call, and the final one occurred in May.

No suspects were arrested until that month, after military police learned that a witness in a drug investigation in the unit had been beaten and threatened with fingers severed from Afghan corpses. The witness told them that some of his colleagues had unjustified kills.

In statements to investigators, soldiers described a plot led by Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs of Billings, Mont., to murder civilians. Much of the case is based on statements from Spc. Jeremy Morlock, of Wasilla, Alaska, who acknowledged participating in the killings.

The other defendants are Spc. Michael Wagnon of Las Vegas, and Pfc. Andrew Holmes of Boise, Idaho. Charges against all five include murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

Gibbs insists the killings were legitimate engagements, while Wagnon and Holmes deny knowingly participating in any staged killings.