7 Marines, 1 sailor charged in Iraqi's murder

Thursday, June 22, 2006

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Seven Marines and a Navy corpsman were charged Wednesday with premeditated murder in the shooting death of an Iraqi man who was pulled from his home and shot while U.S. troops hunted for insurgents. They could face the death penalty if convicted.

All eight also were charged with kidnapping. Other charges include conspiracy, larceny and providing false official statements.

Col. Stewart Navarre, chief of staff for Marine Corps Installations West, announced the charges at Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base, where the eight are being held in individual cells for 23 hours each day. The troops are members of the Pendleton-based 3rd Battallion, 5th Marines Regiment.

The case is separate from the alleged killing by other Marines of 24 Iraqi civilians in the western Iraqi city of Haditha last November. A pair of investigations related to that case are still underway and no criminal charges have been filed.

Some or all of the troops being held at Camp Pendleton could face the death penalty, though Navarre said "it's far too early to speculate on that right now."

Lt. Gen. John Sattler, the senior commander at Pendleton, will decide whether and how to proceed with preliminary hearings known in the military justice system as Article 32 proceedings. That in turn could lead to courts-martial for some or all of the men.

All eight have hired private attorneys and also have been given military defense lawyers.

Maj. Haythan Faraj, who represents Marine Cpl. Trent D. Thomas, said he has yet to see details from the investigation but claimed that at least some of the information provided by the troops was "was coerced out of them" by military investigators.

The Pentagon began investigating shortly after an Iraqi man identified as Hashim Ibrahim Awad was killed April 26 in Hamdania, west of Baghdad. Navarre did not disclose details about the incident but a senior Pentagon official with direct knowledge of the investigation has said evidence indicates troops entered the town in search of an insurgent and, failing to find him, grabbed an unarmed man from his home and shot him.

After the killing, the troops planted a shovel and an AK-47 rifle at the scene to make it appear the man was trying to plant an explosive device, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. The larceny charge relates to the theft of an AK-47 and a shovel.

Gary Solis, a former Marine Corps prosecutor and judge, said the filing of so many serious charges gives prosecutors room to bargain.

"There's an implicit inducement for somebody to turn, and that's always what happens in a case like this -- somebody flips," he said.

Separately, the U.S. military in Iraq announced that murder charges were filed against a fourth Army soldier in the shooting deaths May 9 of three civilians who had been detained by U.S. troops. Spc. Juston R. Graber, 20, of the 101st Airborne Division was charged with one count of premeditated murder, one count of attempted premeditated murder, one count of conspiracy to commit murder, and making a false official statement.

On Monday the military announced that three soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division had been charged with murder and other offenses in connection with the May 9 killings. It was not clear why charges against the fourth soldier were not announced until Wednesday.

In addition to Thomas, those charged include Marine Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III, Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Melson J. Bacos, Marine Lance Cpl. Tyler A. Jackson, Marine Pfc. John J. Jodka, Marine Lance Cpl. Jerry E. Shumate Jr., Marine Lance Cpl. Robert B. Pennington, and Marine Cpl. Marshall L. Magincalda.

Together, the Hamdania and Haditha cases have generated international criticism of the U.S. and unfavorable publicity for the Marine Corps. Gen. Michael Hagee, the Marine commandant, recently visited Iraq to reinforce the importance of adhering to ethical standards.

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