FORT HOOD, Texas – Defense lawyers sought leniency for Pfc. Lynndie England (search) at a hearing Tuesday to determine her punishment in the Abu Ghraib (search) prison abuse scandal, with a psychologist testifying that the reservist was oxygen-deprived at birth, speech impaired and had trouble learning to read.
West Virginia school psychologist Dr. Thomas Denne — the first defense witness — said England's learning disabilities were identified when she was a kindergartner — and though she made progress in school, she continued needing special help.
"I knew I was going to know Lynndie England for the rest of my life," Denne said.
A military jury of five men and one woman was seated earlier Tuesday to make a sentencing recommendation for England, 22, who pleaded guilty Monday to seven counts of mistreating prisoners. She said she let her comrades talk her into going along with the abuse.
England, from Fort Ashby, W.Va., accepted responsibility for the smiling, thumbs-up poses she struck for photographs taken at Abu Ghraib that made her the face of the prisoner abuse scandal.
In one of the photos, England held a leash looped around the neck of a hooded, naked prisoner. Another showed her next to nude prisoners stacked in a pyramid, while a third depicted England pointing at a prisoner's genitals as a cigarette dangled from her lips.
The charges carry up to 11 years in prison. Prosecutors and the defense reached an agreement that caps the sentence at a lesser punishment; the length was not released. She will get the lesser of the military jury's sentence or the term agreed on in the plea bargain.
Prosecutor Capt. Chris Graveline told jurors in opening statements that England and a half-dozen other soldiers in the 372nd Military Police Company took great pleasure in humiliating the prisoners. The prosecution rested its sentencing case without calling any witnesses.
Graveline said England and Pvt. Charles Graner Jr. (search) — the abuse ringleader and the father of England's child — knew it was wrong to mistreat the detainees and take the photos, "but they did it anyway for their own amusement."
Graner is scheduled to testify for the defense Wednesday. He handed out a written statement Tuesday saying that he was unhappy that England opted for a plea deal rather than fight the charges she faced.
"Knowing what happened in Iraq, it was very upsetting to see Lynn plead guilty to her charges," wrote Graner. "I would hope that by doing so she will have a better chance at a good sentence."
When asked by judge Col. James Pohl whether England knew right from wrong, Denne said she had a compliant personality and tended to listen to authority figures.
On Monday, England told Pohl that she initially resisted taking part in the abuse at the Baghdad prison, but that she succumbed to peer pressure.
"I had a choice, but I chose to do what my friends wanted me to," she said.
Rick Hernandez, a defense lawyer, said the pscychologist's testimony helped England by establishing that her ability to reason was lower than that of her comrades.
"She is clearly in a different mental capacity ... than any of the others accused," he said.
Graner was convicted in January on abuse charges and is serving a 10-year prison sentence. Four other Abu Ghraib guards and two low-level military intelligence officers have entered guilty pleas in connection with the scandal, with sentences ranging from no time to 81/2 years. Spc. Sabrina Harman, a former Abu Ghraib guard, is scheduled to go to trial at Fort Hood next week.