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Army To Prosecute Wash. Soldier On Murder Count

SEATTLE (AP) - The Army will try in military court one of five soldiers accused of killing civilians in Afghanistan for sport, it said Monday, despite an investigator's recommendations to drop the murder and conspiracy charges.

Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti decided to proceed with a court-martial against Spc. Michael Wagnon II on charges of murder, conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to commit assault and assault with a dangerous weapon, according to a statement from Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

If convicted, Wagnon could be sentenced to life in prison. No trial date was set.

The Army dismissed two charges - one alleging that Wagnon kept a piece of skull from an Afghan corpse and the other accusing him of trying to obstruct the Army's investigation into his platoon's alleged misconduct by destroying images of Afghan casualties on his computer.

An Army investigator, Maj. Michael Liles, had conducted a preliminary hearing in Wagnon's case and found that there was not enough evidence to sustain charges that he deliberately killed any civilian or conspired to kill civilians.

Base spokeswoman Maj. Kathleen Turner said Liles' report was "just a recommendation" and not binding.

Wagnon's lawyer, Colby Vokey, did not immediately return a call Monday night.

Vokey said after Liles' recommendation that it showed "Michael Wagnon has done absolutely nothing wrong. He was responding in combat as soldiers are supposed to respond."

Wagnon, of Las Vegas, is among five soldiers from the base south of Seattle who were accused of killing three Afghans - in January, February and May - in one of the most serious war-crimes cases to emerge from the war.

Four other defendants have also had their cases referred for court martial.

Seven other soldiers were charged with lesser misconduct, including drug use and beating up a fellow soldier who was a witness in a drug investigation in the unit; two have pleaded guilty.

Referring to Liles' recommendation,