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Marine in case of slain Iraqi is freed

Times Staff Writer

The last of five infantry squad members who pleaded guilty in the kidnapping and killing last year of an unarmed Iraqi man in Hamandiya was freed Friday after a review of his sentence.

Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis, commanding general of Marine Forces Central Command, ordered the release of Marine Pvt. Robert Pennington, who had served 15 months of an eight-year sentence, after a meeting at Camp Pendleton with Pennington and his parents. Pennington was released from the brig at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station.

Mattis’ move comes in the wake of two courts-martial over the same incident in which Marine juries found two corporals guilty but gave them no jail time beyond the months they had spent locked up awaiting trial.

Terry and Deanna Pennington, who waged a vigorous campaign in print media, on television and on the Internet on behalf of their 23-year-old son, had traveled to Camp Pendleton from their home on Maui to plead with Mattis for their son’s release.

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“We couldn’t be happier,” said Terry Pennington after Mattis made his decision, adding that his first priority was to get his son counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder.

A Marine spokesman said Mattis based his decision on three factors: Pennington was only 21 years old at the time of the killing in April 2006, was not a squad leader and did not fire his weapon. Mattis delayed making a decision on whether Pennington would still get a dishonorable discharge.

Last week, a jury convicted Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III, the squad leader, of unpremeditated murder and sentenced him to 15 years and a dishonorable discharge. Mattis is reviewing this sentence.

Pennington was a lance corporal and on his third combat tour in Iraq when he and seven other members of the same squad decided to kidnap and kill an Iraqi as a warning to insurgents to stop attacking Marines in the Hamandiya area west of Baghdad.

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Prosecutors alleged that Pennington was one of the leaders of the plot, particularly in planting phony evidence to suggest that the Iraqi was an insurgent killed in a firefight.

Pennington pleaded guilty in February to conspiracy and kidnapping and received the most severe of the five plea bargain sentences. A Navy medical corpsman received 12 months in the Camp Pendleton brig, a Marine private first class 18 months, and the two lance corporals 21 months each.

Mattis this week ordered the freeing of Tyler A. Jackson and Jerry E. Shumate Jr., four months before their scheduled release. John J. Jodka III and corpsman Melson Bacos had served their sentences, with time off for good behavior.

Three Marines chose to be tried by court-martial rather than engage in plea bargains. Juries, composed of Marines who had been in combat in Iraq, convicted all three: Cpl. Trent D. Thomas, Cpl. Marshall Magincalda and Hutchins, the squad leader.

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The same juries spared Thomas and Magincalda any additional jail time.

tony.perry@latimes.com


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