Marine's release from brig sought

October 17, 2006|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- The parents of a Marine charged with murdering an Iraqi said yesterday that it is needlessly cruel of the Marine Corps to keep their son in the brig while an officer in a similar case was allowed to remain free.

Deanna and Terry Pennington said their son's mental condition is deteriorating as he spends 22 of every 24 hours in a tiny cell awaiting court-martial in the April 26 killing of a 52-year-old man in Hamandiya. Lance Cpl. Robert Pennington, 22, is developing nervous tics and may not be able to assist in his own defense, his father said.

Attorneys for several of the Marines facing charges in connection with the killing have tried unsuccessfully to have their clients released while awaiting court-martial.

"Life in the brig is total hell for these guys," Deanna Pennington said. "They've not been convicted of anything and they're being treated like serial killers."

Terry Pennington noted that Lt. Ilario G. Pantano, accused of unlawfully killing two Iraqis, was allowed to remain free during the court proceeding in 2005 at Camp Lejeune, N.C., that led to charges being dropped.

The Marine Corps has refused to explain why the defendants in the Hamandiya case are being kept in the brig, telling families and attorneys only that the general in charge of the court proceedings based his decision on information he received from Iraq.

At the same time, a dozen Marines from Camp Pendleton who are suspected of killing as many as 24 Iraqis, including women and children, last November in Haditha are under no restrictions.

Pennington and the six other Marines are accused of dragging Hashim Ibrahim Awad, a suspected insurgent, from his home, killing him and then planting phony evidence to suggest he was caught setting up a bomb.

In a plea bargain, Navy corpsman Melson Bacos, 21, said he will testify against the seven Marines. Bacos was sentenced to a year in the brig.

But Terry Pennington said he will not ask his son to plea bargain even though he faces murder charges that carry the death penalty.

"We would never advise our son to cut a deal," said Terry Pennington. "He has told us he didn't do anything wrong."

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