Army sergeant guilty in beating of fellow soldier

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 08, 2011 11:38 PM
Army sergeant guilty in beating of fellow soldier

By Laura L. Myers

SEATTLE (Reuters) - A five-member military jury found a U.S. Army sergeant guilty on Friday of beating up a fellow soldier but acquitted him of charges of shooting at unarmed civilians while deployed in Afghanistan.

Sgt. Darren Jones, 30, of Pomona, California, was one of a dozen soldiers accused in connection with the most far-reaching prosecution of alleged wrongdoing by U.S. military soldiers during 10 years of war in Afghanistan.

The jury sentenced Jones to seven months of confinement and reduced his rank to private, Major Chris Ophardt, an Army spokesman, said. He could have faced up to 22 years in prison if convicted on all charges.

The military jury found Jones not guilty of firing on unarmed Afghans while on patrol in March 2010 and participating in discussions about staging killings of civilians to make the slayings look like legitimate combat casualties.

But it determined he did participate in the May 2010 beating of Private Justin Stoner, a whistle-blower whose complaint of widespread hashish use in his platoon led Army investigators to uncover the unprovoked killings.

Several gruesome photos, among dozens ordered sealed by Army officials, have drawn comparisons with pictures of Iraqi prisoners taken by military personnel at Iraqi's Abu Ghraib prison and made public in 2004.

Five soldiers from the infantry unit formerly known as the 5th Stryker Brigade were charged with more serious charges including murdering unarmed Afghan villagers in cold blood during their deployment in 2010.

One of them, Jeremy Morlock, was sentenced in March to 24 years in prison after pleading guilty to three counts of murder and agreeing to testify against his co-defendants.

Seven other men, including Jones, were charged with less serious offenses stemming from an investigation that began as an inquiry into drug use by U.S. troops. Six of those cases have already been completed with varying sentences.

Jones was the first of the soldiers to request that a military jury, rather than a judge, hear evidence against him at a general court-martial that began on Thursday at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, south of Tacoma, Washington.

He had faced two counts of conspiracy to commit assault, one count of unlawfully striking another soldier, one count of assault with a deadly weapon and another of impeding an investigation.

The remaining five soldiers who faced more serious murder and related misconduct charges are scheduled for court-martial trials to begin in September.

One, Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, called the killings' ringleader by Army prosecutors, learned on Friday that his Article 32 hearing, similar to a grand jury hearing in civilian court, will be reopened later this month.

Several of the soldiers, including Gibbs, also are charged with keeping body parts as war trophies.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston)