SYDNEY, N.S. — A Canadian soldier who shot and killed his tentmate and close friend in Afghanistan in 2007 was sentenced Wednesday to four years in prison and dismissed from the military.
Cpl. Matthew Wilcox, a 24-year-old soldier from Glace Bay, N.S., was convicted in July of criminal negligence causing death and neglect of duty in the shooting of Cpl. Kevin Megeney.
Wilcox stood as military judge Cmdr. Peter Lamont read him his sentence.
Lamont, indicating the reasons for his decision, said the conduct of the offender was part of a pattern of negligence that began with his failure to unload his firearm.
“He violated (the) trust of his colleagues,” Lamont said Wednesday.
“He was highly trained … and in this period he wilfully ignored instructions,” Lamont continued.
“His critical carelessness has had tragic consequences.”
Lamont added that he was obliged to give Wilcox the minimum sentence in the civilian Criminal Code of four years.
“In this case, I’m unable to say how the offence can be considered any less grave for sentencing purposes just because it has occurred overseas.”
Wilcox’s sister, who attended Wednesday’s hearing, wept as the young soldier was sentenced.
Wilcox’s court martial heard evidence that he and the 25-year-old Megeney — both reservists with the Nova Scotia Highlanders — were playing a game of quick-draw when Wilcox fatally shot his close friend in the chest on March 6, 2007.
Wilcox testified that he had acted in self-defence, instinctively firing his 9-millimetre Browning pistol without looking when he heard someone behind him cocking the hammer on a gun inside his tent at Kandahar Airfield.
Lamont did note that Wilcox is young, had no previous record and had been praised by his commanding officer for adequately performing his military duties since his return to Canada.
He also acknowledged Wilcox’s grief since Megeney’s death.
“There is no doubt he has suffered enormously from the loss of his platoon mate,” Lamont said.
Maj. Jason Samson, one of the prosecutors in the case, recommended that Wilcox be sentenced to six years in prison, nine months of which would be served at the Canadian Forces Service Prison in Edmonton.
As well, he said Wilcox should be reduced in rank to private and dismissed from the forces.
Members of Megeney’s family told Wilcox’s sentencing hearing their lives have been shattered by his death.
Dexter Megeney described his son as one of his “buddies,” a vibrant young man who enjoyed fishing, playing golf and shooting pool with his dad.
But since his son’s death, Megeney said he no longer sleeps well and has started smoking again after giving up the habit four years ago.
He takes up to 18 pills a day to control stress.
Wilcox’s lawyers said they plan to appeal the verdict in the case and ask Lamont to release the soldier pending that appeal.