WASHINGTON – Seven Marines and a Navy corpsman were charged Wednesday with premeditated murder in the shooting death of an Iraqi man who was pulled from his home and shot while U.S. troops hunted for insurgents. They could face the death penalty if convicted.
All eight also were charged with kidnapping. Other charges include conspiracy, larceny and providing false official statements.
Col. Stewart Navarre, chief of staff for Marine Corps Installations West, announced the charges at Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base, where the eight are being held. The troops are members of the Pendleton-based 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines Regiment.
The case is separate from the alleged killing by other Marines of 24 Iraqi civilians in the western Iraqi city of Haditha last November. A pair of investigations related to that case are still under way, and no criminal charges have been filed.
Some or all of the troops being held at Camp Pendleton could face the death penalty, though Navarre said "it's far too early to speculate on that right now."
Lt. Gen. John Sattler, the senior commander at Pendleton, will decide whether and how to proceed with preliminary hearings known in the military justice system as Article 32 proceedings. That in turn could lead to courts-martial for some or all of the men.
All eight have hired private attorneys and also have been given military defense lawyers.
The Pentagon began investigating shortly after an Iraqi man identified as Hashim Ibrahim Awad was killed April 26 in Hamdania, west of Baghdad. A charging document provided to The Associated Press by Jane Siegel, an attorney for Marine Pfc. John J. Jodka, alleges that the Iraqi was shot by five of the Marines and that an AK-47 assault rifle were placed in the victim's hands, apparently to make it appear he was an insurgent.
A senior Pentagon official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, has said a shovel was also planted on the body to make it appear the man was trying to plant an explosive device.
Besides Jodka, charged were Marine Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III, Marine Cpl. Trent D. Thomas, Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Melson J. Bacos, Marine Lance Cpl. Tyler A. Jackson, Marine Lance Cpl. Jerry E. Shumate Jr., Marine Lance Cpl. Robert B. Pennington, and Marine Cpl. Marshall L. Magincalda.
According to the charging document, the troops were staking out an intersection to see whether anyone appeared to place explosives in holes along the road. When no one came, Magincalda, Thomas, Pennington and Bacos went into a nearby home, stole a shovel and an AK-47 and went looking for an insurgent named Saleh Gowad.
When they couldn't find Gowad, they went into a house belonging to Awad and kidnapped him, prosecutors assert. Magincalda, Thomas, Pennington and Bacos forced Awad to the ground and bound his feet, then took him to their hideout and placed him in a hole.
Hutchins, Thomas and Shumate fired M-16 rifles at Awad while Jackson and Jodka fired M-249 automatic weapons, killing him, according to the document.
Bacos then fired the AK-47 into the air to expend some shell casings. Magincalda collected the casings and put them by the body, the paper said. Pennington cleaned prints off the AK-47 and put it in Awad's hands.
Hutchins, the top-ranking Marine, told his men to make false statements and on April 28 submitted "a false written report regarding the factors and circumstances related to Awad's death," according to the document.
The larceny charge relates to the theft of the AK-47 and the shovel.
Siegel, Jodka's lawyer, said the Pentagon's decision to hold a news conference to announce the charges turned the event into a media circus.
"There is nothing more serious that they could be charged with — these could be capital murder charges — so this is literally a life-and- death situation. And I am just stunned that the government would decide to handle a case that is this serious in the way that they have," she said.
Jeremiah Sullivan III, who represents Bacos, said, "These allegations are shocking, but my client is innocent. Believe me, there are two sides to this story."
Separately, the U.S. military in Iraq announced that murder charges were filed against a fourth Army soldier in the shooting deaths May 9 of three civilians who had been detained by U.S. troops. Spc. Juston R. Graber, 20, of the 101st Airborne Division was charged with one count of premeditated murder, one count of attempted premeditated murder, one count of conspiracy to commit murder, and making a false official statement.
On Monday the military announced that three soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division had been charged with murder and other offenses in connection with the May 9 killings. It was not clear why charges against the fourth soldier were not announced until Wednesday.