Fort Bragg officer's court-martial on murder charges begins
Posted July 30, 2013 8:16 p.m. EDT
Updated July 31, 2013 3:43 p.m. EDT
Fort Bragg, N.C. — Army prosecutors could rest their case Wednesday in the court-martial of a Fort Bragg officer accused of illegally ordering the deaths of two Afghan civilians during a military mission last year.
First Lt. Clint Lorance, 28, with Fort Bragg's 82nd Airborne Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team, faces two charges of murder in the July 2, 2012, shooting deaths in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, where he and his platoon were patrolling near a village when they encountered the men on motorcycles.
Lorance's attorney, Ret. Lt. Col. Guy Womack, says his client's order was based on intelligence information and reports from a helicopter over the region at the time.
The day before the shootings, Womack says, Taliban fighters on motorcycles had also attacked the platoon in the same area, and Lorance was informed to be on the lookout.
"Based on all the information he had at the time, he had an obligation to defend his troops," Womack said.
The Fayetteville Observer reported that Womack told jurors in opening statements that, because Taliban don't wear uniforms, it was difficult to differentiate them from civilians.
Capt. Otto Tripp, the lead prosecutor in the case, however, said Lorance "manufactured combat to get what he wanted" and then lied about what happened.
The government called 11 witnesses Tuesday, including soldiers under Lorance's command who testified that he ordered them to shoot any Afghans they saw on motorcycles.
Pvt. Zachary Thomas said Lorance's first words to another soldier who reported seeing a motorcycle were, "Why aren't you shooting yet?"
Spc. James Twist testified that on the first day Lorance arrived at his unit's outpost, an Afghan with a small child approached them at the gate.
The Afghan asked if he could move concertina wire a few feet so that he could access his fields. Twist said Lorance told the Afghan one of his soldiers would shoot him if he touched the wire.
Womack says he expects to begin presenting his case to the jury Wednesday afternoon.
In addition to the two murder charges, Lorance also faces charges of attempted murder, making false statements, ordering soldiers to wrongfully discharging their firearms into a populated village and impeding the investigation into the shootings.
If convicted of the charges, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.