CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – The wife of one of seven Marines charged along with a sailor with premeditated murder in the shooting death of an Iraqi man said Thursday that her husband was shocked by the allegations.
"He's just a great person, a great father, a great husband and a great Marine. His being in prison doesn't make any sense," Erica Thomas told CBS's "The Early Show."
She said her husband, Marine Cpl. Trent D. Thomas, sounded scared at first and had been going through a roller coaster of emotions — he never had a chance to cope with his best friend's death while fighting in Iraq, he was just now getting to know his daughter, born shortly after he started his second tour, and now the charges.
"It's been a rough two or three years for him, but he's a tough guy and I know we'll get through this," she said.
Thomas and the other servicemen were charged Wednesday in the death of Hashim Ibrahim Awad, 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.
In another case, 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.
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 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 was 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 at the scene to make it appear the man was trying to plant an explosive device.
Besides White and Jodka, charged were Marine Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III; Lance Cpls. Tyler A. Jackson, Jerry E. Shumate Jr. and Robert B. Pennington; Cpl. Marshall L. Magincalda and Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Melson J. Bacos.
"Believe me, there are two sides to this story," said Jeremiah Sullivan III, who represents Bacos.
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.
The four forced Awad to the ground and bound his feet, then took him to their hideout and placed him in a hole, according to the document.
Hutchins, Thomas and Shumate fired M-16 rifles at Awad while Jackson and Jodka fired M-249 automatic weapons, killing him, the document said.
Bacos then fired the AK-47 into the air to expend some shell casings, and 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, it said.
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.
Military law expert at Franklin Pierce Law Center said it is likely that deals would be reached and some charges reduced.
"The chances are they will go after who they think is the least culpable, give him a deal and then have him testify against his comrades," said John Hutson, the center's president and a former Navy adjutant general. "It's a whole lot easier with that kind of direct testimony."
On a Web site set up by Bacos' family, his wife said she has visited him at Camp Pendleton. His arms and legs were shackled, and they had to speak through a glass divider, with a guard posted in the room, said Heather Bacos, a Navy corpsman 3rd class.
"When I told my husband about the support he has received from across the country, it immediately lifted his spirits," she wrote.