A Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier from Wasilla accused of killing Afghan civilians entered a guilty plea in court Wednesday.
Spc. Jeremy Morlock is one of the 5th Stryker Brigade soldiers allegedly shown posing with corpses in pictures.
One of Morlock's attorneys said he hoped the guilty plea will reduce Morlock's sentence. Under this plea agreement, Morlock would face a maximum sentence of 24 years.
The 22-year-old soldier pleaded guilty to three counts of murder, one count of conspiracy and one drug charge. Morlock is one of five soldiers accused of killing three unarmed Afghan men last year.
The court-martial comes days after a German news organization, Der Spiegel, published three graphic photos showing Morlock and other soldiers posing with dead Afghans. One image features Morlock grinning as he lifts the head of a corpse by its hair.
Army officials had sought to strictly limit access to the photographs due to their sensitive nature. A spokesperson for the magazine declined to say how it had obtained the pictures, citing the need to protect its sources.
The Army claims this was a rogue platoon of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Robert Gates admitted he was "upset" by the photos, but refused to comment on details of the case during his visit to Moscow.
"Well it's associated with an ongoing judicial matter. And so I obviously am not at any liberty to comment," said Gates.
The court martial started at 9 a.m. at Joint Base Lewis McChord.
According to a copy of the plea agreement, which was obtained by The Associated Press, Morlock agreed to testify against his co-defendants. In his plea deal, Morlock said he and others slaughtered the three civilians knowing that they were unarmed and posed no legitimate threat.
He also described taking a lead role in the January incident -- lobbing a grenade at the civilian while another soldier shot at him, and then lying about it to his squad leader.
Morlock told investigators the murder plot was led by Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, of Billings, Mont., who is also charged in the case; Gibbs maintains the reasons behind the killings were legitimate.
Nathan said Morlock’s mother, hockey coach and pastor are among the witnesses who might testify on his behalf in court. He indicated the defense would argue that a lack of leadership in the unit contributed to the killings.
After the January killing, platoon member Spc. Adam Winfield, of Cape Coral, Fla., sent Facebook messages to his parents saying that his fellow soldiers had murdered a civilian and were planning to kill more. Winfield said his colleagues warned him not to tell anyone.
Winfield’s father alerted a staff sergeant at Lewis-McChord, which is south of Seattle, but no action was taken until May, when a witness in a drug investigation in the unit also reported the deaths.
Winfield is accused of participating in the final murder. He admitted in a videotaped interview that he took part and said he feared the others might kill him if he didn’t.
Also charged in the murders are Pvt. 1st Class Andrew Holmes of Boise, Idaho, and Spc. Michael Wagnon II of Las Vegas.
Seven other soldiers in the platoon are charged with lesser crimes, including assaulting the witness in the drug investigation, drug use, firing on unarmed farmers and stabbing a corpse.