The commander of the 82nd Airborne Division has reduced the prison sentence but upheld the guilty verdict for a former lieutenant convicted of murder in the deaths of two Afghan men during a 2012 deployment, sending the case to the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals.

Clint Lorance was sentenced to 20 years of confinement in August 2013. He is confined at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Lorance, who served as an enlisted soldier before earning his commission in 2010, deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 with 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division of Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

"Maj. Gen. Richard Clarke carefully reviewed the facts of US v. Lorance, to include the clemency requests submitted in August, October, November and December 2014," said Maj. Crystal Boring, a spokeswoman for the XVIII Airborne Corps, in a statement. "After an in-depth study of the case, he upheld the guilty verdict from the court martial panel and directed one year off the original sentence of 20 years confinement due to post-trial delay. The case is now being forwarded to the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals."

Lorance's supporters, including on a Facebook page called "Free Clint Lorance," railed against Clarke's decision and launched a White House petition that has garnered more than 46,000 signatures in three days. It needs 100,000 signatures by Feb. 1 to get a response from the White House.

In the petition, supporters call for a presidential pardon for Lorance, saying the former lieutenant was punished for trying to protect his soldiers.

"The president has the chance to tell the military and our enemies that when we send our young sons and daughters into harm's way, we do not turn against them," the petition states.

Lorance's case has been controversial from the start, with his supporters believing he was punished for doing his job and trying to protect his men.

But as the White House petition began circulating online and on social media over the weekend, individuals who said they served in Lorance's platoon criticized the former lieutenant's actions in Afghanistan, saying he was overly zealous despite his unfamiliarity with the unit's area of operations.

On July 2, 2012, Lorance, who had just taken over as a platoon leader, and his soldiers were on a foot patrol alongside Afghan soldiers when three men on a motorcycle approached the patrol, according to news reports and a website set up in Lorance's defense.

Prosecutors said Lorance violated the military's rules of engagement when he ordered his soldiers to shoot the men on the motorcycle. Two of the men were killed and the third ran away.

Lorance was convicted of two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder. The jury found him not guilty of making a false official statement.

His client did not receive a fair trial, attorney John Maher said. Lorance didn't even fire his weapon that day, Maher said.

"Clint did not initiate this, nor did he engage anybody directly," he said.

Maher, who did not represent Lorance during trial, first submitted the petition for clemency in August.

At the time, it went to Lt. Gen. John Nicholson, who was the commanding general of the 82nd Airborne.

Maher, who also is an Army Reserve lieutenant colonel, submitted an updated petition when Clarke took command of the division in October.

When Clarke took command, "he became the general court-martial convening authority and assumed responsibility for existing legal cases," said Lt. Col. Cathy Wilkinson, a spokeswoman for the division.

Clarke had broad options when it came to the case, according to a legal expert at the XVIII Airborne Corps. This includes upholding the conviction and sentence or throwing them out completely. He also could have lessened the prison sentence or overturned the punitive discharge.

The clemency petition asked Clarke to "disapprove" the guilty findings, the 20-year confinement sentence and dismissal from the Army.

In the days leading up to Lorance taking over, his platoon had sustained four casualties, Maher wrote in his petition to Clarke. Among those wounded was Lorance's predecessor, who suffered shrapnel wounds to his abdomen, limbs, eyes and face when a hidden improvised explosive device went off.

His client had mere seconds to make a life-or-death decision in order to protect his men, Maher wrote in the petition.

"This is not a case where a depraved soldier intended to kill indiscriminately," Maher said. "This is the case of a patriotic and loyal infantry officer who zealously sought to protect his paratroopers."

Lorance enlisted in the Army after high school and served as a military police soldier in Iraq, South Korea, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas, according to Maher.

After returning from Iraq, Lorance was selected for the Army's Green to Gold program, and he was commissioned in 2010.

Since his conviction, Lorance has been pursuing a master's degree via correspondence and is on a self-designed reading program to keep his mind sharp, Maher said. He exercises daily, eats a healthy diet and remains "very spiritual," Maher said. Ultimately, Lorance wants to earn a doctoral degree and teach, he said.

Lorance is managing his expectations about his clemency petition, Maher said.

"He's very humble," he said. "He doesn't appear to have any resentment or anger."