(CBS/AP) JOINT BASE LEWIS- McCHORD, Wash. - A military jury gave a sentence of life in prison to an Afghan war veteran after he was convicted of murder, conspiracy, and other charges in the deaths of civilians.
Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, 26, from Billings, Mont., was accused of exhorting his bored underlings to kill three Afghan civilians for sport. He was the highest ranking of five soldiers charged in the deaths of the unarmed men during patrols in Kandahar province earlier in the year.
On Thursday, the jury for the court martial sentenced Gibbs to life in prison, but he will be eligible for parole in less than nine years.
Prosecutors said Gibbs and the other soldiers knew the civilians posed no threat, but dropped weapons by their corpses to make it seem like they were dangerous.
During the seven-day court martial, he admitted he cut off the fingers of his dead victim and pulled out one of their teeth as a "war trophy, like keeping the antlers of a deer you'd shoot." He also said he did it so that his subordinates wouldn't think he was a wimp.
Three of the co-defendants pleaded guilty, and two testified against Gibbs, saying he was an imposing, bloodthirsty leader who in one instance, played with a victim's corpse and moved the mouth like a puppet.
Gibbs' lawyer claims they conspired to blame him for what they had done and told the jury that they were "betraying an infantryman."
The jury deliberated for four hours before convicting Gibbs on all charges. The sentencing hearing began immediately, with prosecutor Maj. Andre LeBlanc asking for the maximum, life without parole. He said Gibbs deserved the sentence because he was supposed to protect the Afghan people, but instead caused many to lose trust in Americans, hurting the mission. He said Gibbs often called the Afghans "savages."
"Ladies and gentlemen, there is the savage - Staff. Sgt. Gibbs is the savage," he said.
The defendant's lawyer asked for leniency, life with parole, instead of without it.
"He'd like you to know he has had failures in his life and he's had a lot of time to think about them," his lawyer said. "He wants you to know he's not the same person he was in Afghanistan. He doesn't want his wife to have to raise their son on her own."
The investigation into Gibbs' 5th Stryker Brigade exposed widespread misconduct. Maj. Robert Stelle, one of the prosecutors, said it was a platoon "out of control. The behavior included hash-smoking, collecting illicit weapons, mutilation and photography of Afghan remains, and the group beating of a fellow soldier who reported the drug use.
In total, 12 soldiers were charged; all but two have now been convicted.