On Thursday evening, jurors convicted the 28-year-old Lorance of murder, siding with prosecutors who portrayed his order as a reckless contravention of the rules of engagement. Lorance’s supporters say the real crime was the military’s decision to turn a war hero deployed in one of the most dangerous and remote corners of Afghanistan into a defendant.
“To put murder charges on him!” Lorance’s mother, Anna Lorance, protested in an interview before the verdict in the court-martial was announced. “In war, people die. When you’re in a heated combat zone, you have seconds to think.”
Lorance was sentenced to 20 years in prison, forfeiture of pay and dismissal from the military.
In the annals of American war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, cases that have landed service members in court on serious charges have typically been preceded by outcries, allegations of egregious conduct and extensive coverage in the news media. The vast majority of defendants have been enlisted troops.
There was the 2004 Abu Ghraib prison scandal and the 2005 Haditha massacre in Iraq — cases so shocking that they injected an indelible poison into the relationship between Baghdad and Washington. In Afghanistan, a squad of soldiers infamously described itself as a “kill team” for shooting Afghan men for sport in 2010; the group’s ringleader kept body parts as trophies. Just months before Lorance’s fateful patrol, an Army sergeant left his base at night and massacred 17 sleeping Afghans, including several children.
Lorance’s case is remarkable because he is only the second Army officer charged with murder in a battlefield death during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His defense, outlined in a detailed account on a Web site registered to his name, sought to shift the burden, putting U.S. military rules of engagement on trial.
“In modern warfare, there is no clearly defined enemy,” argues a statement on the site, which 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.”
Lorance was born and raised in Hobart, a small town in Oklahoma, the son of a welder and a stay-at-home mom. As a toddler, his mother said, he played with toy guns and firetrucks. “We knew at a young age who he was going to be: someone who would defend and help,” she said.
He signed up to become a military police officer on his 18th birthday, when the nation was barely a year into the Afghanistan war and had not yet invaded Iraq. As an enlisted man, Lorance was deployed to South Korea and later Iraq, where he spent 15 months. He loved the rigor and intensity of a military career, Anna Lorance, 54, said.