By Elaine Porterfield
TACOMA, Wash (Reuters) - A U.S. Army sergeant was sentenced to five years in prison on Friday for crimes that included beating a subordinate whose whistle-blowing led to an investigation of rogue soldiers murdering unarmed Afghan civilians.
Staff Sergeant David Bram was found guilty by court-martial on most of the charges against him, becoming the 11th soldier convicted in connection with the widest-ranging prosecution of U.S. military atrocities and other misconduct during 10 years of war in Afghanistan.
The jury panel consisting of two officers and three enlisted men deliberated for 90 minutes before rendering its guilty verdict on all but two of the nine counts against Bram. It took the panel about another hour to decide his sentence.
Addressing the court before sentencing, Bram apologized to "the people of Afghanistan" and said, "I pray I have not deterred any young Americans from serving their nation.
"I truly do understand the weight of what I've done," he added, choking back tears. "I understand I must be punished for my actions. I ask for mercy, not for myself but for my beautiful children."
Bram, 27, the father of a young son and daughter, will be eligible for parole after serving about 3 years and four months of his five-year sentence. Prosecutors had recommended a prison term of seven years.
Bram was acquitted of charges that he mistreated a detainee while on patrol last year in Afghanistan's Kandahar province or that he planted evidence near the body of an Afghan casualty.
But he was found guilty of, among other offenses, solicitation to commit murder, two counts of conspiracy to commit assault and trying to impede an investigation.
He was also convicted of taking part with several soldiers in the May 2010 beating of Army Private Justin Stoner, an informant whose report of rampant hashish use in their platoon led Army investigators to uncover other crimes, including unprovoked killings of innocent villagers.
Pentagon officials have said misconduct exposed by the case had damaged the image of the United States around the globe.
Photographs entered as evidence in the investigation showed some of the soldiers casually posing with bloodied Afghan corpses, drawing comparisons to the 2004 Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq.
Five members of the infantry unit formerly known as the 5th Stryker Brigade ultimately were charged with premeditated murder for killing Afghan villagers in random slayings staged to look like legitimate combat engagements.
The accused ringleader, Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs, was convicted by court-martial last week of murdering three unarmed civilians, drawing an automatic life prison sentence, but he will be eligible for parole in 8-1/2 years.
His onetime right-hand-man turned chief accuser, Army Specialist Jeremy Morlock was sentenced in March to 24 years in prison after pleading guilty to the same three murders. He also was one of several soldiers to testify against Bram.
A third soldier charged with murder, Adam Winfield, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter and was sentenced to three years in prison. A fourth, Andrew Holmes, was sentenced to seven years after pleading guilty to a single count of murder. The fifth, Michael Wagnon, still faces court martial.
Bram received the stiffest penalty among seven other Stryker Brigade members who were charged with lesser offenses in the investigation.
The other six, convicted either by court-martial or guilty pleas, received sentences ranging from demotion or dishonorable discharge to 90 days of hard labor and jail terms of up to nine months.
(Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)