Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Marine Found Guilty of Conspiracy to Murder

A Marine was convicted Wednesday of kidnapping and conspiracy to murder but acquitted of the most serious charge of premeditated murder in the killing of an Iraqi man who was dragged from his home to

A Marine was convicted Wednesday of kidnapping and conspiracy to murder but acquitted of the most serious charge of premeditated murder in the killing of an Iraqi man who was dragged from his home to a ditch where he was fatally shot.

Cpl. Trent Thomas was also acquitted of making a false official statement, housebreaking and larceny. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole.

Thomas, 25, was the first member of his squad to take his case to trial. Four other Marines and a Navy corpsman pleaded guilty; two other Marines face trial.

The squad members were accused of killing a civilian they found asleep in his home after they failed to kidnap a suspected insurgent. Squad members tried to cover up the killing by planting a gun near the victim.

Thomas withdrew his guilty plea on the eve of sentencing after having an "epiphany." His lawyer claimed Thomas was only following orders.

Thomas had faced a mandatory sentence of life in prison if convicted of premeditated murder. Kelley said there was no minimum sentencing requirement for conspiracy and kidnapping. A sentencing hearing was scheduled to begin Thursday.

"We are extremely pleased that the members found him not guilty of premeditated murder," said Kelley. "Now that the mandatory minimum of life is off the table, the panel has a great deal of flexibility and I think they will do what is appropriate."

Thomas twisted nervously in a swivel chair as the verdicts were read. He spoke only once to respond to a procedural question about his sentencing hearing with a bellowed, "Yes, sir."

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. When they couldn't find him, they instead kidnapped a man identified by prosecutors as Hashim Ibrahim Awad, a retired policeman and father of 11 who lived nearby.

Thomas, of Madison, Ill., 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 the brig.

Those troops 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.

The jury of three officers and six enlisted Marines deliberated for about five hours. Military juries require two-thirds majority to convict.

A sentence of more than 10 years would requires a vote of seven jurors; shorter sentences need approval of six jurors. The final terms of Thomas' punishment will be subject to review by Lt. Gen. James Mattis, the commanding general overseeing the case.

Courts-martial have been scheduled for the two Marines remaining in the case — Cpl. Marshall L. Magincalda on Friday and Hutchins next week.

In January, Thomas pleaded guilty to unpremeditated murder, kidnapping, conspiracy and other charges in an agreement with prosecutors. Terms of the pretrial agreement were not made public, but the deal did include a cap on prison time. He withdrew his plea in February.

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.