Army prosecutors convicted a third member of the infamous Fort Lewis-based "Kill Team" Stryker Brigade last week when Pfc. Andrew Holmes pleaded guilty to charges that he murdered an unarmed Afghan teenager in a poppy field outside of Kandahar in January 2010, and later possessed a severed finger from the victim's corpse. Holmes, 21, was sentenced to seven years in prison for the atrocity, which he claims was orchestrated by the "psychopaths" in charge of his unit.
Pfc. Andrew Holmes.
Despite noting his belief that Holmes has yet to confront the "awful moral gravity" of the homicide, Hawks demurred and dealt Holmes the lesser seven-year sentence. Holmes will receive credit for 499 days he has already served during the course of the investigation and trial, and his time behind bars could be reduced further for good behavior. He is eligible to go before a parole board after serving one-third of his sentence, making it possible that he could be released in about a year.
Holmes' family and defense attorneys tried to paint him as young and easily manipulated, and claimed that he was merely following orders when he gunned down 15-year-old Gul Mudin from about 15 feet away.
Holmes, a native of Pocatello, Idaho, enlisted in the Army the day after his eighteenth birthday. On the "Support Pfc. Andew Holmes" website, Holmes' family writes:
"He is dedicated to his family and friends and would do anything in the world for anyone, and in return would ask nothing. His smile is captivating, and everyone is drawn to him and his charms. His family always teases him about becoming a politician. While attending high school, Andy worked at a local coffee shop and loved talking with all of the patrons. Andy is the type of young man who would talk to anyone."
After basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia, Holmes was shipped to Joint Base Lewis-McChord and assigned to the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. He was deployed to Afghanistan in July 2009, and was the youngest member of his platoon stationed in Kandahar, a Taliban stronghold in the southeast part of the country.
During the trial, according to various reports, Holmes' mother Dana noted that her son required hospitalization after his weight dropped from 200 to 132 pounds upon his return from deployment in April 2010, three months after the murder. The family also recounted how Holmes was shaken by his combat experience. That seems logical, considering that he took part in some of the most grisly war crimes ever committed by American military personnel.
According to a Rolling Stone report, Holmes, pictured above with his victim, took a finger from the corpse and carried it with him in a plastic bag.
Allegedly led by Spc. Jeremy Morlock and Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, the rogue Stryker Brigade slaughtered multiple unarmed Afghan civilians with Army-issued machine guns and grenades, then staged the crime scenes to make it appear as though the innocent victims were actually armed combatants. According to Rolling Stone, which recounted the story of the "Kill Team" in gruesome detail earlier this year, Gibbs mutilated the corpse of Holmes' 15-year-old victim, cutting off a finger and giving it to Holmes to carry as a trophy. Holmes kept the severed digit with him in a Ziploc bag.
"He wanted to keep the finger forever and wanted to dry it out," one of Holmes' fellow soldiers was quoted as saying in the Rolling Stone story. "He was proud of his finger."
In his plea agreement, Holmes admitted to murder but denied that it was premeditated. He also admitted to smoking marijuana and hashish "on numerous occasions" during his deployment.
In a statement to the court last week, Holmes blamed Morlock for inciting the macabre behavior, claiming that his superior was the kind of leader "who would make you eat dirt, just to eat dirt." Morlock pleaded guilty to three murders and his currently serving a 24-year sentence. Gibbs and Michael Wagnon, another alleged "Kill Team" member, are still awaiting trial.