A forensic expert testified Monday there is no evidence that a machine gun carried by an Idaho soldier caused the death of an Afghan civilian in January 2010.
Pvt. 1st Class Andrew Holmes of Boise is one of five soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, south of Seattle, charged in the thrill killings of three Afghan civilians last year. Holmes is accused of directly participating in the first killing.
Spc. Jeremy Morlock, who has been sentenced to 24 years in the case, claimed to have thrown a grenade at the first victim as Holmes shot the man with a powerful machine gun. Holmes, now 20, insists he fired because Morlock led him to believe the man posed a legitimate threat.
Dr. Michael Baden, the chief forensic pathologist with the New York State Police, testified for the defense during a hearing Monday that after reviewing magnified photos of the victim's body, he could find no evidence of any machine gun wounds.
Baden said the victim appeared to have died from one or possibly two isolated wounds. Machine gun blasts virtually always cause clusters of bullet wounds, he said.
"There's no evidence of such clustering," he said.
Holmes' civilian attorney, Daniel Conway, said the testimony is crucial because if his client had really been involved in a murder plot, he would not have missed with a machine gun from such a short distance _ nor been so close to the grenade tossed by Morlock.
Army prosecutors did not challenge Baden's testimony at the hearing.
Conway also told the judge that Holmes had twice asked a superior how seriously he should take comments Morlock made about killing civilians. Holmes thought they were jokes, he said.
Several of Holmes' relatives attended the hearing, wearing yellow wristbands to show their support. One of his co-defendants, Spc. Michael Wagnon, hugged him before leaving the courtroom when the hearing began.
Holmes' mother, Dana, said after the hearing that she was encouraged. "Probably the best forensic pathologist in the world has indicated that my son's weapon did not kill that man," she said. "My son was used as a cover story."
The judge, Lt. Col. Kwasi Hawks, was considering several motions, including a request to release Holmes from custody pending his court martial.