Fort Bragg, N.C. — A Fort Bragg soldier could spend the rest of his life in a military prison if a jury finds him guilty of illegally ordering fire on three Afghan men on motorcycles during a military mission more than a year ago in Afghanistan's Kandahar province.
Ret. Lt. Col. Guy Womack, a former Marine and defense attorney for 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, however, maintains that the orders were justified because of intelligence information and a Taliban attack in the area the day before the July 2, 2012, shootings, in which two of the Afghan men were killed and a third possibly injured.
A decision not to give the orders, Lorance's mother, Anna Lorance, of Celeste, Texas, says, might have been fatal for the 28-year-old lieutenant, and his platoon of 16 U.S. infantrymen and five Afghan National Army soldiers.
"They were fixing to be ambushed," she said. "It doesn't make sense."
First Lt. Lorance, with Fort Bragg's 82nd Airborne Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team, faces two counts of murder, a charge of attempted murder and several other charges including wrongfully impeding the investigation and wrongfully soliciting another service member to make a false official statement.
His court-martial at Fort Bragg is set to begin Tuesday and is estimated to last about three days.
Womack, a Houston-based attorney and former military judge, says that, based on the information he had at the time, his client, a decorated soldier with no history of disciplinary actions in the military, had an obligation to defend his troops.
"It's an extreme example of political second-guessing a young lieutenant who has been in command of a platoon in a combat outpost for just over 24 hours and makes a judgment call based on intelligence reports and a helicopter flying above him at the time," Womack said.
The 82nd Airborne Division won't comment on the case, but spokeswoman Lt. Col. Virginia McCabe says that all civilian deaths are thoroughly investigated and that, when warranted, charges are issued.
"We take every allegation seriously and seek appropriate justice, in accordance with the Uniform Code of Military Justice," McCabe said. "This Command has a legal and moral obligation to investigate all civilian-casualty incidents potentially involving military operations."
But, to his knowledge, Womack says the Army has never been able to definitively determine if the Afghan men killed that day were civilians.
"They called it murder. That's absurd. I think (the Army was) trying to appease the Afghan government," Womack said. "It doesn't make sense. It's bizarre. I've never heard of anything like this."
Meanwhile, Lorance's battle back at Fort Bragg isn't something he's going at alone.
He's being supported by thousands of people on social media and in paper and online petitions calling for the charges to be dropped. A website, Defend Our Soldier, aims to raise awareness of his case and to raise money for his legal defense.
"I know my son, and I know what he did was the very best thing he knew to do in a split second," Anna Lorance said. "Just knowing him and seeing him all his life, so much pride, and see somebody knock him down at this point is just heartbreaking. It's unacceptable. We don't understand."
Growing up in Merritt, Texas, the third of four children, 1st Lt. Lorance always wanted to help and defend others, his mother says.
As a teenager, he was actively involved in a police explorer program, and it was then that a police officer encouraged him to consider joining the military. On his 18th birthday, he was in a recruiter's office, joining the Army as a military police officer.
He then spent two years in Korea and 15 months in Iraq before eventually enrolling at the University of North Texas, where he also trained to become a commissioned officer. He graduated in 2010, becoming the first member of his family to go to college.
He was deployed to Afghanistan in March 2012 and was there for about four months when he was tasked to take over a platoon that had lost their lieutenant to a roadside bomb.
It was less than two days in his new role that 1st Lt. Lorance ordered the attack that now has him fighting to keep his freedom.
Since he was charged in January, Womack says his client has remained on administrative duty, going to work every day and participating in military events.
"I'm totally blown away, but I see him, still, with all this happening to him, that he remains positive and sure about what he had to do," Anna Lorance said. "He tries to stay strong, but, as a mother, when I look into his eyes, it's heartbreaking to me because I have always seen so much courage and strength. Now, I see pain and devastation."
Once his first love, Anna Lorance says, her son no longer wants to serve in the military.
"He's pretty much feels like, 'I put 100 percent into being the very best that I can be for our country and to serve our country, and if this can happen to me and they can push me aside, then I want out,'" she said.