Soldier charged in Afghan deaths released

SEATTLE — One of five soldiers charged with killing Afghan civilians for sport was released from Army custody on Friday and placed on electronic monitoring pending his court-martial.

Spc. Michael Wagnon, 30, will be assigned to a different unit at Joint Base Lewis-McChord south of Seattle, but it remained unclear what his daily duties will be. Wagnon was born in California and listed his hometown as Las Vegas. He joined the Army in February 2003 in Salt Lake City.

He has been in custody for about 11 months, after investigators alleged that he had joined the others in conspiring to kill three Afghan civilians in Kandahar province last year.

“He had tears in his eyes,” said his attorney, Colby Vokey. “The first thing he said was, ‘I can’t wait to spend the night at home with my wife and my kids.’ ”

One of the soldiers, Spc. Jeremy Morlock, of Wasilla, Alaska, has given statements describing a plot he claimed was led by Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, of Billings, Mont., to murder civilians for fun while on patrol.

Morlock claimed that Wagnon joined Gibbs in the second of the three killings in February 2010, but little or no evidence has emerged publicly to corroborate that Wagnon intended to kill a civilian. During that shooting, prosecutors say, Gibbs killed a civilian and planted an AK-47 by his body to make him appear to be a combatant.

Wagnon acknowledged shooting at the victim after he heard gunfire, but said he was simply coming to the aid of a fellow soldier . Gibbs insists all of the killings were justified.

An Army investigator who reviewed evidence against Wagnon recommended that murder and conspiracy charges against him be dropped, but officials declined to do so. His court-martial is set for June 13.

Wagnon also faces a charge of conspiracy to commit aggravated assault because he was present when others in his unit, including Gibbs, is alleged to have fired toward unarmed farmers in a field.

Morlock has pleaded guilty, agreed to testify against his co-defendants and has been sentenced to 24 years in prison. The rest — Gibbs; Spc. Adam Winfield, of Cape Coral, Fla.; and Pvt. 1st Class Andrew Holmes, of Boise, Idaho — are awaiting trial.

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