Supporters of a former Army lieutenant sentenced to 20 years in Leavenworth for ordering his men to shoot three civilians in Afghanistan say he should be freed based on newly surfaced evidence showing the victims likely posed a threat after all.
Lt. Clint Lorance, 29, was convicted of murder in the 2012 incident, in which he ordered his platoon to shoot the men approaching a checkpoint on a motorcycle when they refused to stop. Two died, and military prosecutors at Lorance's court martial said he acted recklessly in violation of the military's rules of engagement, which requires soldiers to hold fire absent evidence of hostile action or hostile intent. But now, Lorance's attorneys claim previously withheld evidence shows the men he ordered shot had ties to extremist groups.
“The Army has in its possession evidence linking Afghan military-aged males involved in this general court-martial to improvised explosive devices as well as IED attacks and terror networks in Afghanistan,” reads a memo from Lorance’s attorneys. “The government failed to disclose this information to the chain-of-command, counsel for the defense, and the court-martial. These significant failures strike at the very heart of American due process and show that the government violated its discovery and disclosure obligations…”
Lorance had been leading the 82nd Airborne Division platoon for less than a week following a battle injury to its previous commander when the incident occurred in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan. When the three men sped toward a checkpoint manned by his platoon, posing what Lorance said he believed to be an imminent threat, he ordered his men to open fire. One of the men, Pvt. David Shilo, testified at the court martial that his life was not in immediate danger when he was ordered to shoot.
Lorance became just the second Army officer charged with murder in a battlefield death in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and was convicted of two counts of murder and one of attempted murder.
“I walked into the courtroom and couldn't believe what I was hearing,” Lorance's mother, Anna Lorance, told FoxNews.com of the Fort Bragg court martial. “I had to sit there and listen to them [the prosecutors] tear my son apart and destroy his life."
Lorance's attorneys sought to put the Army's rules of engagement on trial, an argument continued by his supporters who have gathered more than 32,000 signatures calling for him to be freed.
“In modern warfare, there is no clearly defined enemy,” argues a statement on the website his family is using to raise money for the officer’s legal expenses. “Long gone are the days where American soldiers could distinguish their enemy by the uniform they wore.”
But the new evidence may offer a fresh avenue to freedom for Lorance. His attorneys are citing it in demanding that clemency be issued by the 82nd Airborne Division commander, Maj. Gen. Richard Clarke. In the memo, the attorneys state that the surviving rider was linked to an IED explosion in Kandahar just one month after the incident.
“With a small percentage of cases, clemency is viable and this is one of them,” John Maher, Lorance’s attorney, said to FoxNews.com. “This could be an Army success story. It’s probable that they had this info and didn’t issue it to the prosecutors at the time of trial.”
Anna Lorance says her son was just protecting his platoon and doesn’t understand why the Army tarnished his reputation.
“He has served his country with dignity and pride. He loves the military so much that his family almost comes second,” she said. “His character has been challenged. We are blown away in disbelief.”
Legal experts say that the new evidence is compelling. Peter Johnson, senior legal analyst for Fox News Channel, said he reviewed the evidence and saw reason to believe Lorance may not have been given a fair trial.
“Based upon the alleged failure to disclose the terrorist ties of the Afghanis and other prosecutorial conduct which may have robbed Lt. Lorance of a fair trial, clemency seems to be the just outcome."
Army officials told FoxNews.com that they are reviewing the request, but did not say when Clarke would make a final decision.
“[Clarke] is carefully reviewing the facts of U.S. v. Lorance, to include the clemency requests," Lt. Col. Cathy Wilkinson, a spokeswoman for the 82nd Airborne Division, told FoxNews.com. “He takes this case very seriously and is performing an in-depth study of the file and clemency requests.”
Perry Chiaramonte is a reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter at @perrych