CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – A Marine was found guilty Wednesday of conspiracy to murder an Iraqi man, but acquitted of premeditated murder and kidnapping in a bungled attempt to kill a suspected insurgent last year.
Cpl. Marshall Magincalda also was found guilty of larceny and housebreaking and cleared of making a false official statement. He stood rigidly alongside his two attorneys as sighs and gasps filled the packed courtroom.
A separate jury's deliberations were to resume Thursday in the case of his squad leader, Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III, who faces the same charges.
Prosecutors said that during a nighttime patrol in Hamdania, Iraq, in April 2006, the Marines' squad hatched a plan to kidnap and kill a suspected insurgent from his house. When they couldn't find him, they instead kidnapped a man from a neighboring house, dragged him to a hole and shot him.
Prosecutors said squad members tried to cover up the killing of Hashim Ibrahim Awad by planting a shovel and AK-47 by his body to make it look like he was an insurgent planting a bomb.
Magincalda, 24, of Manteca, would have received a mandatory life sentence had he been convicted of premeditated murder. The murder conspiracy count carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, but a squad mate convicted of the same charge last month did not get any prison time from a different military jury.
Magincalda's attorney Joseph Low called the verdict a "blessing."
"He wanted a fair trial with a fair jury and he got that," the attorney told reporters. "He was extraordinarily relieved, as you can imagine."
Magincalda was accused of being part of the four-man "snatch team" that seized the victim from his home, but was not accused of firing any shots. His defense attorneys argued that the Marine is a religious man who wanted no part in the conspiracy and told his squad mates he would not shoot anyone.
The verdict was rendered by a jury of five enlisted men and one officer. All have served at least one combat tour in Iraq.
"Only a combat vet can understand another combat vet," Low said. "It's an experience that you have to go through, you cannot be told about it."
A sentencing hearing for Magincalda, who has been in custody since May 2006, was set for Thursday.
All eight members of Magincalda's squad were initially charged with murder and kidnapping. Four lower-ranking Marines and a Navy corpsman cut deals with prosecutors in exchange for their testimony and received sentences ranging from one to eight years in prison.
A jury acquitted another defendant of murder last month, despite several of his former squad mates testifying that he helped kidnap and shoot Awad. Cpl. Trent D. Thomas was convicted of kidnapping and conspiracy. His rank was reduced to private and he was given a bad-conduct discharge _ but no prison time.
Prosecutors have pointed to Hutchins, 23, of Plymouth, Mass., as the ringleader in the plot. Hutchins' defense attorneys argued the squad leader participated in the plot because his officers had set a poor leadership example and given approval for Marines to use violence in capturing and interrogating suspected insurgents.
Several witnesses have testified the plot emerged from frustration over suspected insurgents who kept evading prosecution.