CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Seven Marines and a Navy medical corpsman were charged yesterday with premeditated murder, kidnapping, conspiracy and other offenses in connection with the April 26 death of an Iraqi civilian in Hamandiya and an alleged cover-up.
The defendants are accused of breaking into a home in the town west of Baghdad, dragging out an unarmed, disabled 52-year-old Iraqi named Hashim Ibrahim Awad and killing him.
An AK-47 and a shovel were left near the body to make it appear that Awad was an insurgent digging a hole to place a roadside bomb, according to military investigators.
The troops had been searching for an insurgent and, after finding his home empty, they went next door and pulled out Awad, legal papers said. A charge of premeditated murder carries a maximum penalty of death.
The eight Camp Pendleton-based servicemen are members of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment, 1st Marine Division and have been in the brig since being shipped back to the base in late May.
They were identified as 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 charges come amid a continuing investigation of a dozen Marines in the Nov. 19 deaths of 24 Iraqis, including women and children, in the insurgent stronghold of Haditha. The Marines under investigation in that case are from the 3rd battalion, 1st regiment, 1st Marine division, also at Camp Pendleton.
The Hamandiya charges also come in the same week as the military announced that four U.S. Army soldiers have been charged with premeditated murder in connection with the killing of three Iraqi detainees in Salahuddin province.
Since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, more than 30 American military personnel have been charged with killing Iraqis. At least nine have been convicted by military courts, with the most severe penalty a prison sentence of 25 years to life.
The Hamandiya case is the first in which murder charges have been leveled against Marines in Iraq. More Marines have apparently been charged in this case than in any previous wartime killing in the service's history, officials said. The charges were leveled by Lt. Gen. John Sattler, commanding general of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Central Command, after an investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
"All Marines are trained in the law of armed conflict and are expected to fully comply with it," said Col. Stewart Navarre in announcing the charges. "The Marine Corps also prides itself on holding its members accountable for their actions."
The charges now go to the military equivalent of a civilian grand jury or preliminary hearing. Based on what happens at the hearing, Sattler, or his successor, will decide whether the case should go to a court-martial.
Defense attorneys quickly rebutted the charges and predicted a long and contentious legal fight. Each of the eight defendants has military and civilian lawyers.
"It's going to be a war," predicted Rich Brannon, a former Marine and Georgia attorney representing Hutchins.
David M. Brahms, a retired Marine brigadier general representing Pennington, criticized Pentagon officials, alleging they leaked details about the case prior to the charges and said of his client, "I'd be proud to have him as my son."
Maj. Haytham Faraj, representing Thomas, said his client was on his third tour in Iraq and was "an outstanding Marine, doing his job, leading his men."
Faraj said he and other attorneys plan to question the tactics used by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Some of the defendants were threatened with the death penalty unless they talked to investigators, defense attorneys said.
Until Friday, the eight defendants in the case were shackled whenever they left their cells. But after protests from attorneys and family members, the Marine Corps, in what it called a routine re-evaluation, determined that shackling was not necessary.
The military started its investigation into the man's death after members of his family went to authorities and protested his slaying, according to a statement released along with the charges. Four other members of the defendants' battalion are possible witnesses, according to a Marine statement released yesterday.
Defense attorneys have suggested that relatives of the slain Iraqi might have concocted the story in hopes of getting money from the United States. The military has dispensed millions of dollars to Iraqis who have lost family members or had property destroyed.
Carolyn Jodka, mother of Pfc. John Jodka, said the family was braced for the charges but had hoped something might keep them from being leveled. She said she is glad, however, that her son is no longer shackled.
Tony Perry writes for the Los Angeles Times.
Military investigations in Iraq
Hamandiya: The Marine Corps charged seven Marines and a Navy corpsman now at Camp Pendleton with murder and kidnapping yesterday in the shooting death April 26 of an Iraqi in Hamandiya, west of Baghdad. According to the charges, the 52-year-old man was dragged from his home and shot to death, and then an assault rifle and shovel were left by his body to suggest he had been planting explosives.
Haditha: The U.S. is investigating allegations that 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians were killed by U.S. Marines in the western town of Haditha on Nov. 19 in revenge attack after a Marine was killed by a bomb. The military is also investigating whether there was a cover-up.
Ishaqi: A military investigation ruled that U.S. troops used appropriate force when fired upon and did not intentionally kill Iraqi civilians in a March 15 raid in the village of Ishaqi. Residents contend that 11 Iraqi civilians were intentionally slain.
Salahuddin province: Four U.S. soldiers have been charged with premeditated murder in the death of three Iraqi detainees May 9 near the Muthana Chemical Complex, military officials said this week. The soldiers initially said the Iraqis were shot while trying to escape but were contradicted by another soldier, who witnessed the shootings, the officials said.