Base Rally Backs 8 Accused Troops
As scores of protesters picketed outside Camp Pendleton on Saturday in support of seven Marines and a Navy corpsman charged with murder in the death of an Iraqi man, defense attorneys began preparing for a long legal battle.
Waving U.S. flags and holding signs such as “God Bless Our Heroes” and “Liberate the Pendleton 8,” an estimated 200 demonstrators shouted and whistled as Marines entered and left the base. Many of the Marines honked their horns in apparent appreciation.
“I think they should all be freed. It’s unjust what’s happening to them,” said Jani Tubis, 46, a real estate agent from San Diego. “They were just doing their job.”
Marie Grischuk, 72, of Oceanside, the widow of a Marine, said she joined the protest “because it’s just not right that they’re in the brig. They were protecting our country against terrorists.”
Meanwhile, military and civilian defense attorneys are preparing motions demanding a delay in the preliminary hearing as well as seeking access to the autopsy report and statements given by Iraqis.
The troops, charged Wednesday with premeditated murder, kidnapping, conspiracy and related offenses, are an infantry squad from Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment, 1st Marine Division. The battalion, on its third tour in Iraq, is scheduled to return in August.
Those charged are Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III; Cpl. Trent Thomas; Lance Cpl. Tyler Jackson; Pfc. John Jodka; Lance Cpl. Jerry Shumate Jr.; Lance Cpl. Robert Pennington; Cpl. Marshall Magincalda; and Navy Corpsman Melson Bacos.
The Marines were reportedly on “ambush duty” outside the Iraqi village of Hamandiya on April 26, waiting to catch insurgents burying roadside bombs. Searching for one insurgent and finding his home empty, the accused allegedly went next door to the home of a disabled 52-year-old Iraqi, Hashim Ibrahim Awad, and dragged him outside.
Awad was allegedly pushed to the ground and bound at the feet and hands. Five of the Marines allegedly shot Awad with their M-16 and M-249 rifles. An AK-47 and a shovel were left near the body to make it appear Awad was an insurgent caught digging a hole to plant a roadside bomb, military investigators said.
Hutchins, the squad leader, then allegedly phoned in a false story to Marines at the base camp and told his squad to lie about what had happened.
After Awad’s family protested to Marine authorities, the military launched an investigation. The Marines and the corpsman are now also charged with lying to agents of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service by insisting that Awad was killed during a firefight.
When inconsistencies occurred in the Marines’ accounts of the killing, a dozen troops were ordered back to Camp Pendleton. The eight who were charged last week have been in the brig since late May. In the military, a conviction on a premeditated murder charge can lead to the death penalty.
Military authorities and defense attorneys decline to confirm accounts by those close to the case that some of the Marines have confessed in follow-up interviews with investigators.
Defense attorneys are expected to try to cast doubt on the truthfulness of the Iraqis interviewed by military investigators and allege that the investigators coerced misleading statements from the Marines and corpsman through intimidation and trickery.
“We have the best possible defense: innocence,” said lawyer Joseph Casas, who represents Jodka, 20, of nearby Encinitas.
As defense attorneys plan strategies, families of the accused are pleading with the public for financial and moral support.
Some families have launched websites, such as www.fightingfortyler.com; www.innocent-marine.com; and www.patriot-defensefund.com.
In Plymouth, Mass., Hutchins’ family spent the weekend holding meetings and planning a fundraiser for legal bills.
“Everyone in the house is beside ourselves with worry over this whole thing,” said Hutchins’ fiancee, Reyna Griffin. “We just want him to come home.”
Times staff writer Elizabeth Mehren in Boston contributed to this report.