Army Drops Murder Charges Against Last "Thrill Kill" Soldier

The U.S. military has dismissed a murder charge against Army Specialist Michael Wagnon, the remaining member of the 5th Stryker Brigade charged with pre-meditated murder in the 2010 "Thrill Kill" spree of killings and corpse mutilation of unarmed Afghan civilians.

The dismissal of the case against Wagnon, 31, brought to an abrupt end the Army's prosecution of the most egregious atrocities that U.S. military personnel have been convicted of committing during a decade of war in Afghanistan.

Five members of the infantry unit formerly known as the 5th Stryker Brigade were charged with killing Afghan civilians in cold blood in random attacks staged to look like legitimate combat engagements. Seven other GIs were charged with lesser offenses in a case that began as an investigation into rampant hashish abuse within the unit.


Some of the soldiers were also charged with mutilation of the corpses -- they removed body parts and kept them as trophys.

The group leader, Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, was sentenced to life in prison for three of the murders but will serve 8/12 years. His "right hand man", Jeremy Morlock, cooperated, plead to the same three murders and received 24 years. Another soldier plead to murder and got 7 years, and one plead to manslaughter and got 3 years.

The five charged with murder were: Jeremy Morlock of Wasilla, Alaska; Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, of Billings, Montana; Pfc. Andrew Holmes of Boise, Idaho; Spc. Adam Winfield, of Cape Coral, Florida; and Spc. Michael Wagnon, of Las Vegas, Nevada. Others were charged with taking pictures of the corpses, and one soldier was charged with with stabbing a corpse.

These were sport killings.

The charging papers from the U.S. military paint a picture of a band of rogue soldiers, smoking hash, bored and plotting and carrying out murders of Afghan civilians for sport.

Watch Jeremy Morelock's taped interview:

The soldier who blew the whistle on the group's drug use which led to the murder investigation was beaten by his comrades. He was later immunized from prosecution, contingent on his agreement not to talk to the media.

Der Spiegel published photos of two soldiers posing with corpses, which prompted the U.S. Army to release a statement calling the photos

"...repugnant to us as human beings and contrary to the standards and values of the United States Army...We apologize for the distress these photos cause..."

Rolling Stone published the uncensored versions of the photos (Don't look if you don't want to see them, they are here) that were published in Der Spiegel. It doesn't look even like the victim is dead. His mouth is open, like he's screaming as the soldier is holding his head up. And he has a name. He's 15 year old Gul Mudin, the son of a farmer from the village of La Mohammed Kalay.

The two soldiers who take turns posing with Gul are Andrew Holmes and Jeremy Morlock. Holmes only got 7 years because he took a last minute plea deal. The judge wanted to give him 15 years. He was charged with premeditated murder, drug use and possession of a severed finger. He denied the bullets that killed Gul came from his weapon and denied knowing about the sport killing in advance. Morlock testified he and Holmes discussed the killing for 10 minutes before it happened. The group discussed other ways to sport kill, like offering candy to the kids and then blowing them up.

How he was killed: Morlock and Holmes were driving and spotted Gul in a field. They beckoned at him to come closer. They could see he was unarmed. (Other reports say Gul lifted his shirt to show them he was not armed.) Morlock threw a grenade at him and told Holmes to open fire. Morlock told the other members of the unit that Gul had thrown a grenade at him and Holmes so they would all open fire.

Back to Wagnon and yesterday's dismissal. Wagon was charged in one of the other killings,

In February 2010, the squad went on a mission to a village called Kari Kheyl. There, Gibbs, Morlock and Spc. Michael Wagnon entered the hut of man a named Marach Agha. They ordered Agha outside and then, according to Morlock, Gibbs turned to the other two soldiers. "'Were we okay to go ahead and shoot this guy?'" Gibbs asked the soldiers, according to Morlock's testimony. "We said 'yeah.'"

Gibbs first fired a contraband AK-47 into a wall, Morlock said, to simulate enemy fire. Then with his M4 rifle, Gibbs shot Agha, Morlock testified. Morlock said he and Wagnon also fired rounds to make it appear as if the soldiers had been attacked first.

At Gibbs' trial, prosecutors showed a photo of of Gibbs, Morlock and Wagnon posing over the Afghan’s corpse.

Rolling Stone has one of the most in-depth articles on the group's killings.

It was during Operation Kodak Moment, a routine mission to photograph and compile a database of the male residents of a village called Kari Kheyl. On February 22nd, the day of the mission, Gibbs hid the AK-47 he had stolen from the Afghan National Police in a black assault pack. As the platoon made its way through the village, he went to the hut of Marach Agha, a man he suspected of belonging to the Taliban, and ordered him outside.

First Gibbs fired the AK-47 into a nearby wall and dropped the weapon at Agha's feet. Then he shot the man at close range with his M4 rifle. Morlock and Wagnon followed up with a few rounds of their own. With the scene staged to his satisfaction, Gibbs called in a report.

In another killing, Wagnon took a piece of their victim's skull as a souvenir.

Here are several of the soldier's interviews/statements in written form. Here are the original charge sheets. Wagon was charged with shooting and killing Marach Agha, and a few months later, obtaining a hard drive evidence of the murders and asking another soldier to destroy it.

As to why Wagnon's charges were dismissed, the military statement said only that the dismissal was "in the interests of justice."

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  • Display: Sort:
    "in the interests of justice" (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by The Addams Family on Sat Feb 04, 2012 at 09:20:07 PM EST
    what can that possibly mean?

    In non military court, the (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by oculus on Sun Feb 05, 2012 at 01:19:18 AM EST
    prosecutor moves the court to dismiss a pending criminal case.  And must state a reason. "In the interests of justice" is a common such stated reason. Could mean a key witness will not testify as the prosecutor anticipated, or victim refuses to testify, etc.

    thank you (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by The Addams Family on Sun Feb 05, 2012 at 01:31:48 AM EST
    i did not know that

    It means (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by lentinel on Sun Feb 05, 2012 at 01:54:33 AM EST
    "in the interests of sweeping this under the rug".

    terrorists... (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by Edger on Sat Feb 04, 2012 at 09:55:40 PM EST

    indeed (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by sj on Sun Feb 05, 2012 at 01:33:06 AM EST
    And on that very sad and sorry note, I'm done for the day.  I can't read a single more thing that will demoralize me.