Seven Marines and a Navy corpsman were charged with premeditated murder in the death of an Iraqi man who was pulled from his home and shot while US troops hunted for insurgents. They could face the death penalty if convicted.
All eight were also charged on Wednesday with kidnapping. Other charges include conspiracy, larceny and providing false official statements.
Colonel Stewart Navarre, chief of staff for Marine Corps Installations West, announced the charges at Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base, where the eight are being held. The troops are members of the Pendleton-based 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines Regiment.
Some or all of the troops being held at Camp Pendleton could face the death penalty, though Navarre said "it's far too early to speculate on that right now."
The Pentagon began investigating shortly after an Iraqi man identified as Hashim Ibrahim Awad was killed on April 26 in Hamdania, west of Baghdad. A charging document provided by Jane Siegel, an attorney for Marine Private John Jodka, alleges that the Iraqi was shot by five of the Marines and that an AK-47 assault rifle was placed in the victim's hands, apparently to make it appear he was an insurgent.
A senior Pentagon official, who spoke on condition of anonymity has said a shovel was also planted on the body to make it appear the man was trying to plant an explosive device.
Also charged with Jodka were Marine Sergeant Lawrence Hutchins III, Marine Corporal Trent Thomas, Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Melson Bacos, Marine Lance Corporal Tyler Jackson, Marine Lance Corporal Jerry Shumate Jr, Marine Lance Corporal Robert Pennington, and Marine Corporal Marshall Magincalda.
According to the charging document, the troops were staking out an intersection to see whether anyone appeared to place explosives in holes 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 assert. Magincalda, Thomas, Pennington and Bacos forced Awad to the ground and bound his feet and then took him to their hideout.
Hutchins, Thomas and Shumate shot Awad with rifles while Jackson and Jodka fired automatic weapons, killing him, the document stated.
Bacos then fired the AK-47 into the air to expend some shell casings. Magincalda collected the casings and put them by the body, the paper said. Pennington cleaned 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 on April 28 submitted "a false written report regarding the factors and circumstances related to Awad's death," according to the document.
Siegel, Jodka's lawyer, said the Pentagon's decision to hold a news conference to announce the charges turned the event into a media circus.
"There is nothing more serious that they could be charged with -- these could be capital murder charges -- so this is literally a life-and- death situation. And I am just stunned that the government would decide to handle a case that is this serious in the way that they have," she said.
Jeremiah Sullivan III, who represents Bacos, said, "These allegations are shocking, but my client is innocent. Believe me, there are two sides to this story."
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