Army doctor who refused to deploy gets 6 months in military prison, dismissal

Man who had become a hero of the 'birther' movement will also forfeit pension

December 16, 2010|By Andrea Siegel, The Baltimore Sun

An Army doctor convicted of disobeying orders to deploy to Afghanistan because he questioned whether Barack Obama is eligible to be president was sentenced Thursday to six months in a military prison followed by dismissal from the Army.

Lt. Col. Terrence L. Lakin stood stoically in his dress uniform as an eight-person military jury handed down the punishment, which also includes forfeiting pay and allowances. He was given a few minutes with his parents and brothers before being taken into custody.

The sentence, which came after nearly five hours of deliberation by the panel, ended the three-day court-martial at Fort Meade.

Lakin had become a hero of the "birther" movement when he refused to report for a second deployment to Afghanistan until he received an answer to his question of whether President Obama is a natural-born U.S. citizen constitutionally eligible to be president.

Supporters of the movement say Obama, the first black president, was not born in Honolulu in August 1961. However, such conspiracy theories have largely been squelched, and the Obama campaign released his Hawaii birth certificate in 2008.

Lakin's goal was to invite a court-martial in the hope that a judge would force the opening of Obama's birth and other records. But the judge, Col. Denise R. Lind, ruled against Lakin in a pretrial hearing and barred him from using Obama's birth certificate as an issue for his defense.

On Tuesday, Lakin pleaded guilty to disobeying orders; on Wednesday, the panel convicted the physician, who had been working as a Pentagon clinic physician, of not showing up for deployment.

The outcome of the court-martial has cost Lakin, a Greeley, Colo., native with only a little more than two years until retirement, his $90,000 annual salary, allowances, benefits and lifetime pension. His wife and three young children were not in court.

The result of the proceedings crushed his supporters, some of whom traveled from across the country.

"Lt. Col. Lakin showed more courage in the courtroom than the panel of members of the military and the prosecutors and the defense and certainly the judge," said Kate Vandemoer, a Bismarck, N.D., hydrologist who came for the proceedings.

Hilda Millinar of Millersville, a retired civilian financial manager for the Army, said that as a result of this case, people sworn into the military should no longer have to promise to protect the nation from foreign and domestic enemies. The reason, she said, is "because Obama is the enemy."

Others were upset with the way Lakin's civilian defense attorney, Neal A. Puckett, a retired Marine Corps lawyer and lieutenant colonel, spoke about them when he depicted Lakin as a naive man who now realizes that he followed the wrong advice by pressing his questions about Obama with the Army.

"He essentially called us crazy — the audacity of him to call us crazy," said Theresa Cao, a Washington peace activist.

The sentence handed down by the panel — made up of three women and five men who are of equal or higher Army rank to Lakin — will be reviewed by Maj. Gen. Karl R. Horst, the commander of the Military District of Washington and convening authority of the court-martial. Horst can reduce the sentence or dismiss the charges. Lakin can also make a clemency request to him.

Horst's decision is likely to come within 120 days. Because Lakin was thrown out of the Army, an appeal to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals will be automatic.

Despite his questions about Obama's birth, Lakin told the military jury Wednesday that he was wrong not to follow Army orders in April. He said if allowed to stay in the Army, he would deploy "tomorrow."

In closing arguments Thursday morning, Army prosecutors said Lakin had created "a spectacle that has embarrassed the Army" and was detrimental to other service members.

Capt. Philip J. O'Beirne asked the panel for a sentence of at least 24 months, plus dismissal. The maximum sentence would have been 36 months.

Lakin's lawyer argued against jail time, and he blamed Lakin's first attorney, whom he replaced, for providing bad advice.

"Does the Army or society need protection against Dr. Lakin?" Puckett asked the panel.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

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