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Alleged Stryker 'kill team' ringleader wraps up defense

TACOMA, Wash. — Alleged Army “kill team” ringleader Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs could not have murdered an Afghan during a May 2010 patrol because he was talking with a junior soldier that day when shots first rang out, a former private testified Tuesday.

The shooting “happened behind us,” Brandon Rodriguez said in court.

Rodriguez’s testimony was meant to undercut the Army’s allegations that Gibbs orchestrated the killing of the Afghan that day, threw a grenade at the man and later shot him in the head as he lay dying.

The testimony was some of the strongest assistance to Gibbs on the last day of his defense at his Joint Base Lewis-McChord court-martial.

Closing arguments are scheduled to begin today.

Gibbs, 26, faces life in prison if convicted on charges that he murdered three Afghans last year during a deployment with a Lewis-McChord Stryker brigade.

The Army over the past week built an expansive case against him with testimony from soldiers saying he plotted to murder Afghans and showed little regard for civilian lives.

Gibbs’ attorney on Tuesday took aim at the Army’s prime witnesses, drawing on two soldiers who said they overheard admitted “kill team” participants scheme to shift blame for their war crimes on to Gibbs.

Those participants were former Spcs. Jeremy Morlock and Adam Winfield, who have pleaded guilty to killing noncombatants and agreed to testify against Gibbs.

Pfc. Michael Lecroy testified that he shared housing with Morlock on May 11, 2010, while they awaited medical attention at Kandahar Air Field. Lecroy said Morlock unburdened himself about his responsibility for murdering innocent civilians, and told Lecroy he was looking for a way out.

Morlock “was trying to find a way to make (the Army Criminal Investigative Division) believe he wasn’t the No. 1 guy,” Lecroy said.

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