Raleigh, N.C. — Nearly a week after a Fort Bragg officer was sentenced to 20 years in a military prison for illegally ordering the deaths of Afghan civilians, his mother says she and her family will keep fighting until he is free.
"There is no stopping until my son is given the respect he deserves and the honor for being the hero that he is," Anna Lorance said. "We're going to fight, and I don’t know how long it's going to take, but it won't be over until he gets the justice he deserves."
First Lt. Clint Lorance, 28, was found guilty Aug. 1 of multiple charges, including murder, in the July 2, 2012, shootings that occurred while he and soldiers with Fort Bragg's 82nd Airborne Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team were on patrol in Afghanistan's Kandahar province.
In addition to his sentence at Leavenworth Penitentiary – a medium security federal prison about 25 miles north of Kansas City, Kan. – Lt. Lorance was forfeited all pay and dismissed from the U.S. Army.
"If they had just given him a dishonorable discharge, that would have been a life sentence for my son," Anna Lorance said.
Lt. Lorance was born to serve and protect others, his mother says, and the military was his first love.
On his 18th birthday, he enlisted into the Army as a police officer and served 10 years, volunteering for two combat tours and earning more than a dozen medals and awards.
Testifying on his behalf at his three-day court-martial last week were officers he served under in Iraq, where he spent 15 months fighting, and South Korea, as well as his commander at Fort Bragg.
The U.S. Army argued that Lt. Lorance violated the military's rules of engagement – which allow soldiers to fire only if they have evidence of hostile action or intent – when he gave permission for soldiers to fire at three Afghan men on motorcycles.
Two of them were killed, and a third man fled.
But defense attorney Ret. Lt. Col. Guy Womack says Lt. Lorance was protecting his unit and that the shootings were justified. His client had received intelligence information about a threat of possible Taliban fighters in the area – the same area the soldiers had come under attack a day earlier.
Because the enemy can't always be identified, Womack says, it isn't always possible to know who it is until it's too late.
Anna Lorance and thousands of supporters added their names to an online petition urging the government to drop the case. They say Lt. Lorance’s prosecution was a move to appease the Afghanistan government and that a different decision by him could have proved fatal.
"Prosecutors were putting him down, as if he were an absolute nobody, and said he made the military look bad," Anna Lorance said. "Our feeling is that it's not Clint at all that's disgracing the U.S. military. It is them turning against their own soldiers. It makes no sense at all."
A spokeswoman for the 82nd Airborne has said that that the military "has a legal and moral obligation" to investigate all civilian deaths during military missions and to file charges when necessary.
Witnesses testified that Lt. Lorance was aggressive toward Afghan people, and the lead prosecutor told jurors that he "manufactured combat to get what he wanted" and then lied about what happened.
Anna Lorance says that her son puts all he has into whatever he does and that she believes he was only doing the job that the Army deemed him qualified to do.
As an inmate, she says, she believes her son will handle his sentence with courage and will make the best of his time. He's talked about writing a book, she says, and studying law so that he can earn his law degree when he's released.
"He told me, 'Count it as just another mission for me, momma,'" Anna Lorance said.
It's that same courage, she says, that is helping his family remain strong and optimistic.
"I felt like I couldn't do it, but I’m relying on Clint’s strength," Anna Lorance said. "We will take this mission to the best of our ability and get the most out of it as we can. We will never stop fighting, because there is no way he would ever stop fighting 100 percent for any person he knows."