Sun, Jul 22, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Convicted Marine not imprisoned

MILITARY JURY Although Corporal Trent Thomas was convicted of kidnapping and conspiracy to murder, he will not go to jail for the 2006 death of an Iraqi civilian

AP , CAMP PENDLETON, CALIFORNIA

A military jury that convicted a Marine of kidnapping and conspiracy to murder decided not to send him to prison for his role in killing an Iraqi civilian targeted after troops failed to abduct a suspected insurgent.

Corporal Trent Thomas was sentenced on Friday to a bad-conduct discharge and a reduction in rank to private. He could have received life in prison for his role in last year's killing of a retired Iraqi policeman in the village of Hamdania.

Thomas was among seven Marines and one Navy corpsman accused of snatching 52-year-old Hashim Ibrahim Awad from his house, marching him to a nearby ditch and shooting him after they botched an attempt to capture a suspected insurgent.

Prosecutors said squad members tried to cover up the killing by planting a shovel and an AK-47 by Awad's body to make it look like he was an insurgent planting a bomb.

Thomas spoke outside the court. "I believe we did what we needed to do to save Marines' lives," he said, while declining to discuss the details of the event. "I think anybody who understands what war is or what combat is, understands."

A military jury of three officers and six enlisted Marines deliberated Thomas' sentence for less than an hour before returning its decision.

On Wednesday, the jury convicted Thomas, 25, of kidnapping and conspiracy and acquitted him of other charges, including premeditated murder.

Prosecutors had recommended Thomas be sentenced to 15 years in prison with a dishonorable discharge, reduction in rank and a fine.

Thomas' attorneys argued that their client was only following orders from his squad leader and asked that he be credited for the 519 days he has already served in the brig and be returned to active duty.

The final terms of Thomas' punishment are subject to review but the sentence can only be reduced.

Four other Marines and the sailor charged pleaded guilty to reduced charges in exchange for testimony.

A court-martial began on Friday for Thomas' squadmate Corporal Marshall Magincalda. Proceedings are to begin next week in the case of squad leader Sergeant Lawrence Hutchins III. Both are charged with murder, kidnapping, conspiracy and other offenses.

Tom Umberg, a former military prosecutor, called the light punishment "pretty outrageous," suggesting the jurors might have been swayed by their own experiences.

"I have never heard of a court-martial that convicted someone of conspiracy to murder and kidnapping and not adjudicate some kind of [prison] sentence," Umberg said. "Obviously there was some sympathy, maybe even empathy, because all of the panel members had served in Iraq."

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