TACOMA, Washington (Reuters) - The first of five U.S. soldiers charged with killing unarmed Afghan civilians last year was sentenced on Wednesday to 24 years in prison after pleading guilty to three counts of premeditated murder.
The guilty plea and sentencing of Army Specialist Jeremy Morlock, 23, of Wasilla, Alaska, marked a key turning point in the most serious prosecution of alleged U.S. military atrocities during 10 years of war in Afghanistan.
German magazine Der Spiegel this week published several photos related to the killings, one showing Morlock crouched grinning over a bloodied corpse as he lifted the dead man's head by the hair for the camera.
The military judge presiding over the case, Lieutenant Colonel Kwasi Hawks, accepted Morlock's plea deal with prosecutors at the end of a daylong proceeding at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, and sentenced Morlock to 24 years in prison.
The judge also ruled Morlock's incarceration would be reduced by nearly a year for time already served since he was charged, and that he would be eligible for parole in about seven years.
Morlock, who also will be dishonorably discharged from the Army, stood silently facing the judge and showed no emotion as his sentence was pronounced.
Earlier in the hearing, he had read a statement apologizing to the victims' families and the "people of Afghanistan," adding, "I lost my moral compass."
Speaking under oath at the proceedings, Morlock also implicated the four other members of his infantry unit's so-called "kill team" and agreed to testify further against them if called as a prosecution witness for their courts-martial.
(Reporting by Laura L. Myers; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Jerry Norton)