Appeal Denied for Former Army Officer Convicted of Afghan Murders

Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance (Facebook)
Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance (Facebook)

An Army appeals court has affirmed the prison sentence of a former Fort Bragg officer serving 19 years for the murders of two Afghans.

Clint A. Lorance was a first lieutenant with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division when he was deployed with that brigade to southern Afghanistan in 2012.

During the deployment, Lorance ordered his soldiers to shoot at three men who were riding a motorcycle near their patrol. Two of the men were killed, including one who was later identified as a village elder. The third was wounded but escaped.

Lorance was convicted of murder and other crimes during a court-martial on Fort Bragg in 2012.

He was sentenced to a dismissal, confinement for 20 years and forfeiture of all pay and allowances. An Army general later approved only 19 years in prison but otherwise approved the sentence.

But Lorance's lawyers have since argued that the court-martial was flawed.

Earlier this summer, the Army Court of Criminal Appeals examined the case and six errors that lawyers claim officials made. A panel of three judges ruled that only two of the assigned errors -- that prosecutors did not disclose important information about the victims and that Lorance's original civilian lawyer was ineffective -- merited discussion and that, on examination, the errors lacked merit.

The court denied Lorance's request for a new trial, according to an opinion dated June 27.

But John Maher, a civilian lawyer who represents Lorance, said the appeal is not over.

He said he is in the process of petitioning a higher court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, to take another look at the case.

He said the Army Court of Criminal Appeals opinion was incorrectly based on findings that Lorance "unilaterally changed the rules of engagement."

"The problem there is the jury found him not guilty of that," Maher said.

During the court-martial, prosecutors argued that Lorance recklessly endangered his soldiers and the American mission in Afghanistan by ordering the shootings. They said the shootings risked turning the local population against U.S. troops.

At the time of the shootings, U.S. troops were allowed to use force only in defense of themselves or others "upon the commission of a hostile act of the demonstration of imminent hostile threat."

According to testimony, there was no such threat from the three men on the motorcycle.

But Lorance's lawyers have argued that evidence obtained after the court-martial shows the men had connections to attacks on U.S. troops.

The village elder allegedly knew someone linked to hostile actions against troops, according to court documents. The younger victim was linked to an improvised explosive device incident that occurred prior to the shootings.

And the third victim, the man who escaped, was allegedly involved in an attack against U.S. troops after he was wounded.

In the opinion, judges noted that Lorance would not have known any of that information when he ordered the shootings.

They also stated there was no scenario in which the evidence would have been permitted at trial and that, if it had, it would have likely not helped Lorance's case. Instead, the court said the evidence of the third victim's attack on U.S. troops would have likely been used to show the impact of Lorance's order and what happens when the local population believes they are being indiscriminately killed.

The opinion also stated that the government presented overwhelming evidence of guilt and that defense lawyers have not shown how a different approach by Lorance's lawyers would have resulted in a different outcome.

Maher disagreed.

He said the evidence would have shown that the victims were not innocent civilians.

"There may not even have been a court-martial," Maher said. "There may have well been not guilty verdicts or at least a reduction of a sentence."

Maher said he believes the shootings were ultimately justified when presented amid the backdrop of the war in Afghanistan and the "fluid, unfolding and volatile situation" the troops found themselves in.

"We killed the right guys," Maher said.

The lawyer said his predecessor on the case also should have questioned the soldiers who testified against Lorance to reveal that they had been ordered to testify and granted immunity in exchange for their testimony against their former first lieutenant.

He said Lorance -- who had only led the platoon for a short time before the shootings -- was pitted against the very men whose lives he was trying to protect with his order.

The petition for Lorance's latest appeal is due next month, Maher said.

In the meantime, Lorance's supporters remain optimistic.

"It's an uphill battle, that's for sure," Maher said.

Maher said he was traveling to the U.S. Army Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas on Wednesday to meet with Lorance, who has been in prison for four years.

"He is hopeful," Maher said of his client. ""He's been dealt a heavy dose of skepticism... but he remains somewhat optimistic."

--This article is written by Drew Brooks from The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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