Marine Convicted of Conspiracy

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 26, 2005

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – A military jury on Wednesday convicted a Marine of kidnapping and conspiring to murder an Iraqi man in a bungled attempt to abduct and kill a suspected insurgent in Hamdania.

Cpl. Trent Thomas was acquitted of premeditated murder, making a false official statement, housebreaking and larceny.

Thomas, 25, was the first of seven Marines and a Navy corpsman to go to trial in the killing, which squad members tried to cover up by planting a gun near the victim after he was gunned down in a ditch.

Email newsletter signup

Thomas had faced a mandatory sentence of life in prison if convicted of premeditated murder. He still could get a life sentence for his convictions, but there is no minimum sentencing requirement, his lawyer Victor Kelley said.

“We are extremely pleased that the members found him not guilty of premeditated murder,” Kelley said. “Now that the mandatory minimum of life is off the table, the panel has a great deal of flexibility and I think they will do what is appropriate.”

A sentencing hearing was scheduled to begin Thursday.

Thomas, like all but two of the other defendants, had pleaded guilty in the case. But he withdrew the plea on the eve of sentencing after having an “epiphany.” His lawyer claimed Thomas was only following orders.

Prosecutors said that during a nighttime patrol on April 26, 2006, Thomas’ squad hatched a plan to kidnap and kill a suspected insurgent from his house. When they couldn’t find him, they instead kidnapped a man identified by prosecutors as Hashim Ibrahim Awad, a retired policeman and father of 11 who lived nearby.

Thomas, of Madison, Ill., the senior corporal in the squad and a fireteam leader, led a four-man team to take Awad from his home, prosecutors said.

During the eight-day court-martial, Thomas’ attorneys argued that he was following orders of squad leader Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III. Thomas did not address the court during his trial, but made similar statements when he changed his plea.

The defense also argued that Thomas’ judgment was clouded by brain injuries from repeated explosions. An expert said Thomas witnessed more than 25 bomb blasts during his three tours of Iraq.

The four Marines and a Navy medic who pleaded guilty to reduced charges in exchange for their testimony received between one and eight years in the brig.

Those troops testified that several squad members took Awad to a ditch and shot him to death. In an attempt to cover up the killing, they placed a shovel and AK-47 by his body to make it look like he was an insurgent planting a bomb.

Cpl. Marshall L. Magincalda’s court-martial is scheduled to begin Friday. Hutchins’ is to begin next week.

Charges against the Marine squad came as another Camp Pendleton unit was under investigation in the killing of 24 civilians in Haditha. In that case _ the biggest U.S. criminal case involving civilian deaths to come from the Iraq war _ three Marines have been charged with murder and four officers have been charged with failing to investigate the deaths.

A service of the Associated Press(AP)