CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – Friends and family are rallying around the seven Marines and a Navy medic charged with killing an Iraqi civilian, setting up Web sites to raise money and draw attention to what they claim is an unfair prosecution.
The troops are charged with premeditated murder and could face the death penalty if convicted. Supporters are scrambling to raise tens of thousands of dollars to pay defense attorneys.
"We are not rich, but we are doing anything we can," said Diann Shumate of Matlock, Wash., mother of 20-year-old Marine Lance Cpl. Jerry Shumate Jr.
Military prosecutors allege the troops kidnapped an Iraqi man from his home, tied him up, put him in a hole by the side of a road and sprayed him with bullets, then sought to cover up the crime by making it appear the man was armed and attempting to plant explosives. The troops are being held in the brig at Camp Pendleton.
Shumate does not work, and her husband is an electrician. She does not know how much lawyers' fees will be, but expects them to be "outrageous."
"We have been collecting cans. We've depleted our savings, and if we owned our house, we would put it up," she said. The couple had raised $100 at a yard sale and has a fundraising barbecue planned.
All eight of the men were assigned military defense attorneys, paid for by the Marine Corps. Each has also hired a civilian lawyer.
Families of the men say their loved ones are good soldiers who would never intentionally kill an innocent person.
Terry Pennington, father of accused Marine Lance Cpl. Robert Pennington, of Mukilteo, Wash., has used a portion of his family's savings to pay $10,000 in initial attorney's fees. He plans to start a Web site to raise more money.
Several other families have already done so, setting up stars-and-stripes-festooned sites with names like http://www.innocentmarine.com and http://www.defensefundformyhero.com.
John Jodka II, father of accused Marine Pfc. John Jodka III, has hired two defense attorneys at an initial cost of $10,000 but expects the final bill to be a "six-figure amount."
"We'll do whatever we need to do," said Jodka, of Encinitas, Calif.
Like Pennington, Jodka has been campaigning to keep his son's case in the public eye, appearing on a procession of news shows.
Family members believe that by drawing attention to the case they can ratchet up public pressure on the Pentagon and elected officials.
Last week, Camp Pendleton reduced the troops' level of security from maximum to medium and dropped a requirement that they be shackled whenever out of their cells. Military officials said the decision was made after a routine hearing, but Jodka thinks public pressure played a role.
"I think it was a catalyst, but there are a lot of people that helped," Jodka said.
For the last two Saturdays, protesters have congregated outside the base's main gate to protest the detention of the men. Another protest is planned this weekend.
Last year, Marine Lt. Ilario Pantano faced a court martial on charges he murdered two Iraqi civilians. He claimed self-defense, and his mother ran a high-profile publicity campaign during his trial. The charges eventually were dismissed.
Jodka cites that case as his "template," saying support in the community "had a direct effect at how people looked at the evidence being presented to the prosecution. That sunshine to the prosecution's case is exactly my intent here."
Besides Shumate, Pennington and Jodka, the other troops charged are Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III of Plymouth, Mass., Cpl. Trent D. Thomas of Oceanside, Calif., Navy Hospitalman 3rd Class Melson J. Bacos of Franklin, Wisc., Lance Cpl. Tyler A. Jackson of Oceanside, and Cpl. Marshall L. Magincalda of Manteca, Calif.