Something terrible happened on Jan. 15 in the small Afghanistan village of La Mohammad Kalay. Someone tossed a U.S. Army grenade at a civilian. Someone else shot a civilian. Army prosecutors say the murderers were part of a "kill team," made up of members of Bravo Company, Second Battalion, First Infantry Regiment, Fifth Brigade while stationed in Afghanistan's Kandahar Province. Pfc. Andrew Holmes of Boise is alleged to be one of the killers.
Half a world away on Nov. 15, Pfc. Andrew Holmes of Boise was led into a military courtroom and accused of murder, conspiracy and possessing body parts.
Special Agent Benjamin Stevenson spoke of his discovery of two human fingers near the living quarters of Holmes and his company. A member of that company, Spc. Ryan Mallett, remembered Jan. 15, saying he saw Holmes fire his weapon at a male Afghan civilian. But in cross examination, Mallett said that Holmes' shots may have missed the civilian.
While witness after witness linked Holmes to the atrocities, Holmes' defense team dropped a legal bombshell and its aftershock could reach as far the Pentagon. Two Army special agents testified that then-commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, had been updated on the alleged crimes and, in turn, briefed Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai.
"It's awfully troubling when you see indications that a high level of command could be influencing a criminal investigation," lead defense counsel Dan Conway told Citydesk.
As for exactly what happened on Jan. 15, Conway said his client was there but only taking orders.
"At the time of the shooting, Pfc. Holmes did not know that his team leader was staging a killing and using Holmes as an unwilling participant," said Conway.
Conway said he asked the Army Court of Criminal Appeals to introduce into evidence a series of photographs of the slain civilian's body.
"These photographs will demonstrate that Pfc. Holmes shot and missed the civilian. There aren't any bullet holes shot by a machine gun," Conway told Citydesk. Due to the sensitive nature of the photographs, only descriptions of the pictures have been allowed thus far.
"They're making some very sensational charges," said Conway. "We want to enter these photographs into the record and not conduct this hearing in secret."
Conway said his client was equally reluctant to handle body parts.
"His superior insisted that Pfc. Holmes take a finger [from the corpse]," said Conway. "He never wanted the finger, but he took it and disposed of it soon after."
At the end of a long day of testimony, Conway asked for an unscheduled piece of evidence to be entered into the record: a statement from Holmes.
The 20-year-old private stood at attention and faced Investigating Officer Michael Liles.
"I didn't murder anyone," Holmes said.
"I'm proud of my son," Forest Holmes told Citydesk. "Andy's a good kid and he's a good soldier."