Hearings look at slaying

2 Marines allegedly confess to killing of Iraqi man, 52

August 31, 2006|By Tony Perry | Tony Perry,LOS ANGELES TIMES

CAMP PENDLETON -- Two Marines have confessed to kidnapping and killing a 52-year-old Iraqi man in Hamandiya, west of Baghdad, a military prosecutor said yesterday at a preliminary hearing.

Capt. Nicholas L. Gannon said that Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III and Cpl. Trent Thomas have admitted to the slaying, one of two high-profile cases in which Marines allegedly killed Iraqi civilians without provocation.

Gannon added that a third defendant, Lance Cpl. Robert Pennington, gave a statement that lays out the alleged conspiracy to cover up the murder by leaving phony evidence and filing a false report.

Seven Marines and a Navy corpsman have been accused in the April 26 incident of dragging Hashim Ibrahim Awad from his home, shooting him and leaving an AK-47 and shovel near his body to suggest he was an insurgent burying a roadside bomb.

Yesterday, two Article 32 hearings were held to determine whether two of the Marines should go to a court-martial. Similar hearings are set for the other defendants in the next two months.

The defense attorney for Cpl. Marshall Magincalda, at the hearing for his client, said he plans to argue that the alleged confessions mentioned by the prosecutor are merely statements given to investigators, not admissions of guilt.

Similarly, a defense attorney for Pfc. John Jodka, at his hearing, said the statements had been coerced by authorities and were untrue.

At both hearings, defense attorneys said their clients were willing to let the two hearing officers make their recommendations based on reading the investigative documents, saying that airing the evidence in public at this stage could keep their clients from receiving a fair trial.

Jane Siegel, the civilian attorney for Jodka, told hearing officer Col. Paul L. Pugliese that reading certain parts of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service report aloud in court could "completely pollute the local and national jury pool. Some of it is very inflammatory."

The report includes statements by Iraqis and by the defendants. If any of the cases goes to a court-martial, the case will be heard either by a military judge or a jury of Marines.

The Jodka hearing was highlighted by an announcement by the lead prosecutor, Lt. Col. John Baker, that the government will not seek the death penalty for the murder charge. Baker said such a request was "inappropriate" in Jodka's case, but he did not elaborate.

Later, a Marine spokesman said that decision pertains to only Jodka.

The military indictment lists Jodka as one of five troops who fired weapons at Awad.

Jodka's second civilian attorney, Joseph Casas, said that the Iraqis who implicated his client cannot be believed.

"Their culture is so different from our own that when they narrate a story, they tell it in first-person," he said, suggesting that Iraqis say they have witnessed things that they have only heard about.

Magincalda and Jodka are the first of the eight defendants to undergo an Article 32, the military's equivalent of a preliminary hearing, named after the relevant section of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

All eight defendants are from the same platoon in Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment, 1st Marine Division. The battalion was on its third tour in Iraq.

Along with Jodka, Magincalda, Hutchins, Pennington, and Thomas, the other defendants are Lance Cpl. Tyler Jackson, Lance Cpl. Jerry Shumate Jr. and Navy corpsman Melson Bacos. Hutchins was the senior enlisted man.

Tony Perry writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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