3 more Marines to stand trial in killing of Iraqi

October 19, 2006|By Tony Perry | Tony Perry,LOS ANGELES TIMES

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Three more Marines were ordered yesterday to stand trial on charges of murder, kidnapping and conspiracy in the April shooting death of an Iraqi man.

But Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis, commanding general of Marine Force Central Command, dropped a charge against the three that could have resulted in the death penalty.

Mattis ordered Lance Cpl. Tyler Jackson, Lance Cpl. Robert Pennington and Cpl. Trent Thomas to stand trial. He previously ordered Pfc. John Jodka, Cpl. Marshall Magincalda and Lance Cpl. Jerry Shumate to court-martial, also after dropping the death penalty charge. The trials will probably not begin until February.

Also yesterday, the Army announced that eight soldiers will face trial on charges of murdering Iraqis: four in the alleged gang rape of a teenage girl in Mahmudiya and the murder of her and her family; and four in the killings of three detainees near Tikrit. In the Mahmudiya case, two of the soldiers could face the death penalty.

The Fort Campbell soldiers facing the death penalty are Sgt. Paul E. Cortez and Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman. Both are accused of raping Abeer Qassim al-Janabi in her family's home in Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad, then killing the girl, her parents and younger sister.

Spc. James P. Barker and Pfc. Bryan L. Howard are also accused in the rape and murders but will not face the death penalty, the military said in a statement.

Barker's attorney, David Sheldon in Washington, said that Barker has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in their case against others, including former Army Pvt. Steven Green, who was discharged for a personality disorder and arrested in North Carolina.

Sheldon also said that he and prosecutors have signed a plea agreement but wouldn't discuss details. Any agreement would still have to be approved by the court.

"One of the things that the government factors is cooperation of co-accused. And I would certainly think that is a factor in who faces the death penalty in this and who doesn't," Sheldon said.

Green, who has pleaded not guilty to one count of rape and four counts of murder, will be tried in federal court in Kentucky.

Military prosecutors have said the five - all from the division's 502nd Infantry Regiment - planned the attack from a checkpoint near the family's home, changed their clothing to hide their identities and set the girl's body on fire to destroy evidence.

Their unit suffered months of bombings and shootings that felled dozens of comrades. Defense attorneys have argued that soldiers of every rank were emotionally ragged and strained.

In statements given to military investigators, Spielman was described as a "look-out" while the others entered the home. His attorneys said they were shocked that he faces a death penalty.

"Even according to the government's evidence that they're putting forth, Jesse isn't even a principal in murder and rape," said Craig Carlson, Spielman's attorney.

Several of the soldiers have military defense attorneys, who are prohibited from discussing their cases outside of a courtroom.

In the Marine case, Mattis is considering evidence against Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III, accused of being the ringleader in the plot to kill an unarmed Iraqi and then plant evidence suggesting that he was caught planting a roadside bomb.

An eighth defendant, Navy corpsman Melson Bacos, had pleaded guilty to lesser charges and promised to testify in the case. Bacos was sentenced to a year in the brig.

The Marines and Bacos are charged with dragging Hashim Ibrahim Awad, 52, whom they suspected of being an insurgent, from his home in Hamandiya, tying his hands and feet, stuffing a rag in his mouth, and then executing him.

An investigation was launched after Awad's family protested that the killing was unprovoked and denied he was linked to the insurgency.

The defendants, all members of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment, have been in the brig since being ordered back from Iraq in May. If convicted, they could be sentenced to life in prison.

Tony Perry writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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