CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – The government will not seek the death penalty for a Marine Corps corporal who is among eight troops charged with murder and other crimes in the shooting of a civilian Iraqi man, a military prosecutor told a hearing officer Tuesday.
Lance Cpl. Jerry E. Shumate Jr., 21, is accused in the killing of 52-year-old Hashim Ibrahim Awad last April in Hamdania, west of Baghdad. Shumate is suspected of firing his M-16 at Awad, then lying to investigators about what had happened, according to charging documents.
Military prosecutor Lt. Col. John Baker's recommendation against a possible death penalty for Shumate came at the conclusion of an Article 32 hearing, the equivalent of a preliminary hearing in civilian court, that was held as part of the process to decide whether Shumate will be held for a court-martial. The final decision rests with Lt. Gen. James Mattis.
An investigator who interviewed Shumate in Iraq testified that the interview was emotional, recounting how he burst into tears as he was questioned.
"He was fairly calm, but halfway through the interview he became emotional, then calm, then emotional again," said Kelly Garbo, a special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. "He was crying."'
She said Shumate spoke to her voluntarily. No force or threats were used during the questioning, Garbo testified, and Shumate was allowed to take cigarette and water breaks.
"I told him other members of the squad had been honest and truthful and told us the real story of what happened that night, that there was a kidnap and there was a murder," Garbo testified.
He was shown a map that Lance Corp. Tyler Jackson, another defendant, had drawn during his interrogation. Garbo said the map was used to help Shumate show the officers where events had occurred.
Neither Garbo nor two other NCIS investigators who testified were asked to give details of Shumate's statements. Defense attorneys did not cross-examine any of the investigators.
Asked outside the hearing whether there was an agreement to keep the statements secret, lawyers on both sides refused to comment.
Shumate, a native of Matlock, Wash., is an infantryman who enlisted in February 2005. He was serving his first tour in Iraq. All the defendants were assigned to 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.
He is the third Marine to face an Article 32 hearing. During a previous hearing, Baker said prosecutors would not pursue a capital sentence against Pfc. John Jodka III, another defendant in the case. Hearings for the other accused troops are expected in coming weeks.
All the defendants are accused of entering Awad's house on April 26, kidnapping him and taking him to a roadside hole. There, prosecutors say, several troops shot him.
Defense attorneys have questioned the credibility of the Iraqis who reported the killing to U.S. authorities. But in a brief closing argument, Baker told hearing Officer Officer Col. Robert S. Chester that statements made in the case had been corroborated by DNA evidence and autopsy and ballistics reports.
"The statements taken together with the evidence satisfy probable cause of the offenses charged," Baker said.
Shumate's mother, father and adult sister sat directly behind him in the tiny, 15-seat courtroom. His father, Jerry Shumate Sr., wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the words, "My son, one of the few, the proud, a Marine."
"We're devastated; we're just taking it day by day," Jerry Shumate Sr. said previously. "All we can do is trust in our counsel and trust in our government."