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Keeping Marine in Brig Is Cruel, His Parents Say

Times Staff Writer

The parents of a Marine charged with murdering an Iraqi said Monday 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.

Lance Cpl. Robert Pennington’s mental condition is deteriorating because he is confined to a tiny cell 22 hours a day while awaiting court-martial in the April 26 slaying of a 52-year-old unarmed, disabled man in Hamandiya, said his parents, Deanna and Terry Pennington. Pennington, 22, has developed 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 pending 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.”

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Terry Pennington noted that 2nd 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 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 would testify against the seven Marines. Bacos was sentenced to a year in the brig.

But Terry Pennington said he would 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,” Terry Pennington said. “He has told us he didn’t do anything wrong. He wants his day in court.”

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tony.perry@latimes.com


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