Charge that soldier killed Afghan civilians takes toll on his family

BOISE, Idaho — Dana Holmes’ family Christmas dinner had all the trappings of a traditional holiday meal: Delicious food, sparkly decorations and family time.

But an empty plate marked the place where her son normally would sit. In the family room, his stocking remains filled with Christmas goodies.

While his family plods through the holidays, Pfc. Andrew Holmes sits in a detention block on a Washington state Army base, one of five soldiers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord charged in the deaths of three civilians in Kandahar province this year.

His parents, sisters, brother and new baby niece are waiting at home as complicated legal wrangling plays out to determine whether he’ll face a court martial.

An appeals court must now decide whether Holmes’ attorney can use controversial photos of a dead Afghan man that his defense team says will clear his name.

His family is paying an emotional and financial toll.

“We are just in a holding pattern,” Dana Holmes said. “If we just knew what was going to happen it would be better.”

Dana Holmes lost her county job earlier this year after a flurry of media calls to her office and a blitz of news reports about her son. It’s just as well, she said, because she needs to focus on her son right now.

The family is living on the wages of Dana’s partner, Wendy Vanderford.

Even Andrew Holmes’ weekly phone calls cost the family about $400 a month.

Dana Holmes said she was forced to decide, after a family vote, whether to fix her furnace or take the family to Washington for her son’s hearing in November. This winter, space heaters are keeping the house warm.

They’ve tried to take monthly trips to Washington for short visits to keep Holmes’ spirits up.

The family has received some donations and scraped together enough money to pay for private attorney Daniel Conway, who works with national law firm Gary Myers & Associates.

“We are just a normal family,” Dana Holmes said. “It’s not like we have money in the bank. And a capital murder case is not cheap.”

These types of cases are “exhausting” for the family — emotionally and spiritually, Conway said.

“Any toll taken on the family is magnified 10 times on the young man sitting in pre-trial confinement,” he said. “What affects them most is the uncertainty.”

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