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Let the facts be heard

March 5, 2011
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Motions expected to be heard Monday pertaining to the pending general court-martial of a young soldier from Cape Coral charged with pre-meditated murder could prove pivotal to the evidence presented at trial.

Army prosecutors have made a motion to suppress information related to calls and e-mails Spc. Adam Winfield made to his family in Cape Coral after the then 21-year-old soldier came to believe that others in his platoon had intentionally killed an unarmed Afghan civilian.

The prosecution also wants to bar the consideration of evidence that Spc. Winfield's father then made multiple attempts to contact various officials stateside; that he did reach an army staff sergeant at Spc. Winfield's homebase, Joint Base Lewis-McChord outside of Seattle; that Christopher Winfield did report his son's allegation that soldiers in his platoon were planning and carrying out deliberate slayings while on patrol in Kandahar Province; and that the information provided in the minutes-long call - since confirmed by the non-commissioned officer who answered it - went unreported to the army chain of command and two more deaths occurred, including the one in which Spc. Winfield is charged.

Prosecutors maintain that all of these exchanges - Spc. Winfield's emails and other communications with his parents, Christopher Winfield's conversations with Staff Sgt. James Michael Beck, and Staff Sgt. Beck's response to Mr. Winfield, are hearsay and so inadmissible as evidence.

Spc. Winfield's civilian attorney, Eric S. Montalvo, a 21-year Marine Corps vet who handled more than 300 military courts-martial, disagrees.

"It's like a 9-1-1 call," Mr. Montalvo, a retired major, said this week. "In what murder case is the 9-1-1 call irrelevant? In my mind, that is quite a remarkable assumption."

We would agree, and believe legal minds with much more expertise than we will as well.

Spc. Winfield is charged with a litany of offenses, most predicated on conscious aforethought: premeditated murder, committing an assault with a dangerous weapon, conspiracy to commit premeditated murder, conspiracy to commit aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon and wrongfully using a schedule I controlled substance.

All save the drug charge are in connection with a May 2010 death that occurred well after the soldier told his parents on Jan. 14 that he knew of at least one murder but was afraid to report it because he had been threatened and feared being killed by members of his own platoon.

It would seem that his attempt at notification, lacking though it was, would be germane at trial where the outcome could be life in prison.

Let us be clear here: From all accounts, including those e-mails released to the Associated Press by Spec. Winfield's attorney, the soldier did not do his duty, which was to report the incident through his chain of command. Granted, that may have been hard to do as his immediate superiors are alleged to not only have been involved in the murder plots but were spearheading the "kill scenarios" in which the soldier now also stands accused.

Spc. Winfield is no hero.

But whether he is a murderer, a war criminal, is an allegation to be proven, if, in fact it can be, at court-martial. And the panel of his peers, military officers all of whom have likely walked the field of battle, must to be presented with his effort to notify authorities to help make that determination.

That includes his communications with his family, and his father's subsequent reporting of the alleged activities taking place in Afghanistan.

These facts must be placed into the record.

- Breeze Newspapers editorial



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