Two Marines have confessed to kidnapping and killing a 52-year-old Iraqi man in Hamandiya, west of Baghdad, a military prosecutor said Wednesday at a preliminary hearing.
Capt. Nicholas L. Gannon said that Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III and Cpl. Trent D. Thomas had 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 laid out the alleged conspiracy to cover up the killing 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 a shovel near his body to suggest he was an insurgent burying a roadside bomb.
On Wednesday, two so-called Article 32 hearings were held to determine whether two of the Marines should be court-martialed. Similar hearings are set for the other defendants in the next two months.
The defense lawyer for Cpl. Marshall Magincalda, at the hearing for his client, said he planned to argue that the alleged confessions mentioned by the prosecutor were merely statements given to investigators, not admissions of guilt.
Similarly, a defense lawyer for Pfc. John Jodka, at his hearing, said the statements had been obtained through coercion and were untrue.
At both events, defense lawyers said their clients were willing to let the two hearing officers make recommendations once they had read the investigative documents, saying that airing the evidence in public 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. Any of the cases that go to a court-martial will be heard 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 would not seek the death penalty on the murder charge. Baker said such a request was inappropriate in Jodka’s case but did not elaborate.
A Marine spokesman said the decision involved 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 the Iraqis who had implicated his client could not 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 who said they had witnessed something might have only heard about it.
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.
Magincalda, 20, who was serving his second tour in Iraq when Awad was killed, replied only “Yes, sir,” when asked several questions by the hearing officer, Col. Robert Chester, to determine whether he understood the charges and the legal process.
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.
A dozen Marines from a different battalion are suspected of killing 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha in November after a roadside bomb killed one Marine and injured another. Charges in that case are expected to be filed in September.
After reviewing the evidence, each hearing officer will prepare a recommendation to Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis Jr., commanding officer of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and Marine Forces Central Command.
Neither hearing officer indicated Wednesday when he would submit his report.
The base legal office will also prepare a recommendation.
Mattis will then decide whether the case should proceed to a court-martial, be dismissed or be referred to an administrative proceeding.
Besides 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.
According to the charges, Marines stormed into Awad’s home after failing to find a suspected insurgent thought to be living next door.
Awad was allegedly slammed to the ground in front of his family, and then had his feet and hands bound.
Five of the Marines allegedly killed him with blasts from their M-16 and M-249 rifles. An AK-47 and a shovel were left near the body.
Hutchins, the squad leader, allegedly gave a false story to his superiors and urged his squad members to say that Awad had died in a firefight.
The Marines began an investigation after Awad’s family protested, saying he had been killed without provocation.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
The U.S. military is investigating cases in which its forces are accused of killing civilians in Iraq under questionable circumstances. On Wednesday, preliminary hearings were held for two Marines in the Hamandiya incident.
Date: April 26, 2006
Incident: After an Iraqi civilian is killed, there are indications that evidence may have been planted to suggest he was an insurgent. Eight servicemen have been charged in the case.
Date: Nov. 19, 2005
Incident: Iraqi civilians are slain after a roadside bomb kills a Marine. A dozen Marines are under investigation, but none have been charged.
Date: March 15, 2006
Incident: One suspected insurgent and 12 civilians are slain during a U.S. raid. The U.S. military says the civilian deaths were accidental; Iraqi police say they were deliberate. Troops involved in the incident were cleared June 2.
*Troops cleared of charges
Los Angeles Times