CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – A military jury convicted a U.S. Marine Wednesday of conspiring to murder an Iraqi man in a bungled attempt to abduct and kill a suspected insurgent in Hamdania.
Cpl. Trent Thomas, 25, was the first of seven Marines and a Navy corpsman to go to trial in the killing that squad members tried to cover up by planting a gun near the victim after he was gunned down in a ditch in April 2006.
While several of the men pleaded guilty in the killing, Thomas withdrew his guilty plea on the eve of sentencing after having an "epiphany." His lawyer claimed Thomas was only following orders and he blamed repeated bomb blasts for impairing his judgment.
Thomas faces a maximum sentence of life in prison, according to his defense attorney, Victor Kelley.
Thomas was acquitted of premeditated murder, making a false official statement and housebreaking. He was convicted of kidnapping.
Prosecutors said that during a nighttime patrol on April 26, 2006, Thomas' squad hatched a plan to kidnap and kill a suspected insurgent from his house in the town in Anbar province. When they could not find him, they instead kidnapped a man identified by prosecutors as Hashim Ibrahim Awad, a retired policeman and father of 11 who lived nearby.
Others accused in the case testified that several squad members took Awad to a ditch and shot him to death. In an attempt to cover up the killing, they placed a shovel and AK-47 by his body to make it look like he was an insurgent planting a bomb.
Thomas, the senior corporal in the squad and a fireteam leader, led a four-man snatch team to take Awad from his home, prosecutors said.
During the eight-day court-martial, Thomas' attorneys argued that he was following orders of squad leader Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III. Thomas did not address the court during his trial, but made similar statements when he changed his plea.
"Sir, when my country gives me an order, I follow it," Thomas told the court in February.
The defense argued that Thomas' judgment was clouded by traumatic-brain injury from repeated explosions. An expert said Thomas witnessed more than 25 bomb blasts during his three tours of Iraq.
Military jurors heard evidence from several of Thomas' former squad members during the court-martial.
Four Marines and a Navy medic pleaded guilty to reduced charges in exchange for their testimony. They received between one and eight years in military prison.
Two other Marines charged in the case still face courts-marital — Cpl. Marshall L. Magincalda on Friday and Hutchins next week.
Charges against the Marine squad came as another Camp Pendleton unit was under investigation in the killing of 24 civilians in Haditha. In that case — the biggest U.S. criminal case involving civilian deaths to come from the Iraq war — three Marines have been charged with murder and four officers have been charged with failing to investigate the deaths.