Fort Riley — Five of six murder cases involving soldiers from an Army infantry battalion are beginning their appeals for crimes that stretch from the streets of Baghdad to a rural Kansas farm.
An eight-member military panel sentenced Sgt. Aaron Stanley on Saturday to life in prison without parole for two counts of premeditated murders on Sept. 13, 2004, of soldiers at a farmhouse he rented near Clay Center. Stanley was acquitted of conspiracy to commit the murders.
He will serve his sentence at the military prison at Fort Leavenworth.
Stanley, 23, of Bismarck, N.D., will receive an automatic appeal of his conviction after it is reviewed by Maj. Gen. Dennis Hardy, commander of the 24th Infantry Division at Fort Riley.
Hardy can approve the sentence and forward the case to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals, or recommend clemency for Stanley, said Lt. Col. David Velloney, deputy staff advocate general at Fort Riley.
Stanley was convicted for the shooting deaths of Staff Sgt. Matthew Werner, 30, of Oxnard, Calif., and Spc. Christopher D. Hymer, 23, of Nevada, Mo. Prosecutors argued Stanley shot the two soldiers over fears they would report his drug operations at the farm to civilian or military investigators.
Also charged in the case was Sgt. Eric Colvin, 23, of Papillion, Neb., who agreed to testify against Stanley in exchange for a plea deal with prosecutors. According to testimony during Stanley's court-martial, Colvin is likely to have two premeditated murder charges dropped, but he has entered guilty pleas for related drug charges.
Velloney said prosecutors would decide in the coming weeks whether to go forward with a conspiracy charge against Colvin.
All four soldiers were members of the 1st Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment, part of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Armored Division stationed at Fort Riley.
About two-thirds of the 750 members of the 1st Battalion have returned to Fort Riley in recent days from their second tour of duty in Iraq.
Four other soldiers with the battalion's C Company have been court-martialed for the deaths of Iraqi civilians.
In January, the Army convicted Staff Sgt. Cardenas J. Alban of Inglewood, Calif., of murder for the shooting of a wounded 16-year-old Iraqi as U.S. forces battled an uprising in Sadr City in August. Staff Sgt. Johnny M. Horne Jr., of Winston-Salem, N.C., was sentenced in December to three years in prison after he pled guilty to conspiracy in the same killing.
On May 11, a military panel sentenced Sgt. Michael P. Williams, of Memphis, Tenn., to life with parole for one count of premeditated murder and one count of unpremeditated murder for the August death of an Iraq civilian, also in Sadr City.
A second soldier was sentenced May 9 for his role in the death. Spc. Brent W. May, of Salem, Ohio, was convicted of one count of unpremeditated murder and sentenced to five years in prison.
The Army Court of Criminal Appeals, a three-member panel, will review the cases. A final review will be conducted by a five-member civilian panel, which is appointed by the president.