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Marines accused of murdering iraqi farmer

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Posted on Thu, Jun. 22, 2006
Marines, seaman accused of murdering Iraqi farmer

By Drew Brown
Knight Ridder

WASHINGTON - Seven Marines and a Navy corpsman were charged Wednesday with murder, kidnapping and conspiracy in the death of an Iraqi farmer in April.

The announcement marked the second time this week that the U.S. military has charged troops with killing civilians or detainees in Iraq. Army officials announced Monday that three soldiers had been accused of killing three men their unit had captured near Samarra in May, and charged a fourth soldier Wednesday. The cases come as another investigation continues into allegations that a Marine unit gunned down as many as 24 civilians, including women and children, in November in Al-Hadithah.

In the announcement Wednesday, the suspects also were charged with conspiracy to commit larceny, housebreaking, assault, making false official statements and obstructing justice in the April 26 death of Hashim Ibrahim Awad of Al-Hamdaniyah village, according to Marine Corps officials at Camp Pendleton.

Those charged were identified as Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III; Cpl. Trent D. Thomas; Hospitalman 3rd Class Melson J. Bacos; Lance Cpl. Tyler A. Jackson; Pfc. John J. Jodka; Lance Cpl. Jerry E. Shumate Jr.; Lance Cpl. Robert B. Pennington and Cpl. Marshall L. Magincalda.

Marine officials did not provide details Wednesday on what investigators have determined about the incident, but a charging document provided to the Associated Press by Jane Siegel, a defense attorney for Jodka, alleges that Awad, 52, was shot by five of the Marines and an AK-47 assault rifle was then placed in his hands, apparently to make it appear he was an insurgent.

A charge of premeditated murder carries a maximum penalty of death.

Family members and attorneys for several of the Marines said Wednesday that the men are innocent.

The seven Marines and the Navy corpsman from Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, originally told superiors that they shot Awad at around 3 a.m. after they spotted him digging a hole for a bomb in the village of Al-Hamdaniyah, west of Baghdad. Insurgents are active in the area.

Tribal leaders brought the case to Marine officers' attention May 1. After a preliminary inquiry, a criminal investigation was launched, said Col. Stewart Navarre, a Marine Corps officer at Camp Pendleton.

Possible motive

Awad's family told Knight Ridder in an interview June 2 that the Marines had killed him after he refused to become an informant. They said military personnel dragged Awad from his house in the middle of the night, shot him, then planted a shovel and an AK-47 rifle next to his body.

According to the charging document, the eight were in a hide-out staking out an intersection to see if anyone appeared to place explosives in holes that had been dug 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 could not find Gowad, they went into a house belonging to Awad and kidnapped him, prosecutors allege. Magincalda, Thomas, Pennington and Bacos forced Awad to the ground and bound his feet, then took him to their hide-out and placed him in a hole, the report said.

Hutchins, Thomas and Shumate fired M-16 rifles toward Awad, and Jackson and Jodka fired M-249 automatic weapons ``and as a result of the said M-16 and M-249 fire, Hashim Ibrahim Awad did die,'' according to the document.

According to the account, Bacos then fired the AK-47 into the air to expend some shell casings; Magincalda collected the casings and put them by the body; and Pennington cleaned the Marines' and sailor's prints off the AK-47 and put it in Awad's hands.

Hutchins, the top-ranking Marine, told his men to make false statements and then, on April 28, submitted ``a false written report regarding the factors and circumstances related to Awad's death,'' according to the document.

Navarre said the Marines and the sailor arrived at Camp Pendleton on May 24 and were placed in pretrial confinement in the brig.

Detainees' case

In the other case, Army Spec. Juston R. Graber, 20, was charged with one count of premeditated murder, one count of conspiracy to commit murder and one count of making a false official statement in the deaths May 9 of three detainees during operations in southern Salahaddin province.

The charges allege that Graber shot at least one of the detainees and then lied to an Army criminal investigator by saying the three detainees already were dead when he arrived in front of a house after hearing shots fired.

The Associated Press and the Washington Post contributed to this report.

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