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US soldier jailed for three murders

A US soldier who pleaded guilty to the murders of three Afghan civilians has been sentenced to 24 years in prison after saying "the plan was to kill people" in a conspiracy with four fellow soldiers.

Military judge Lt Col Kwasi Hawks said he initially intended to sentence Jeremy Morlock to life in prison with possibility of parole but was bound by the plea deal.

Morlock, the first of five soldiers from the 5th Stryker Brigade to face court-martial in the case, will receive 352 days off of his sentence for time served and could be eligible for parole in about seven years, said his attorney, Frank Spinner. He will be dishonourably discharged as part of his sentence.

The 22-year-old Morlock is a key figure in a war crimes probe that has raised some of the most serious criminal allegations to come from the war in Afghanistan.

Army investigators accused him of taking a lead role in the killings of three unarmed Afghan men in Kandahar province in January, February and May 2010.

His sentencing came hours after he pleaded guilty to three counts of murder, and one count each of conspiracy, obstructing justice and illegal drug use at his court martial at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Under his plea deal, he has agreed to testify against his co-defendants.

Asked by the judge whether the plan was to shoot at people to scare them, or to shoot to kill, Morlock replied, "The plan was to kill people".

Speaking to reporters after the sentencing, Mr Spinner read a statement prepared by Morlock in which the soldier apologised for the pain he had caused his victims' families and the people of Afghanistan and asked for forgiveness from his fellow soldiers.

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