Marines, corpsman to be removed in Iraqi death

AP News
Posted: Nov 18, 2009 4:49 PM

Three Marines and a Navy man convicted of aiding the kidnapping and murder of an Iraqi man have been ordered removed from the military, the Navy said Wednesday.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus issued the ruling more than two years after the accusations were aired in a Camp Pendleton courtroom.

The men had been allowed to stay on active duty after serving short jail terms for charges linked to the death in the village of Hamdania.

"To allow these individuals to remain on active duty after planning and participating in kidnapping and murder sends absolutely the wrong message as to how the nation and Department of the Navy view this incident," Mabus said in a statement.

"It degrades the actions of thousands of Marines and sailors who, under the stress of combat in Iraq, performed honorably," he said.

Capt. Beci Brenton, a spokeswoman for Mabus, said he was unavailable for further comment.

The secretary found the killing was deliberately planned and not conceived in the heat of battle or the stress of war, Brenton said.

Mabus also ordered the Marines to explain why the lieutenant who oversaw the Camp Pendleton unit, 1st Lt. Nathan Phan, should be allowed to remain in the service. Phan was not charged in the case.

The secretary denied clemency for Pvt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III, who is serving an 11-year prison sentence for unpremeditated murder and other offenses.

Seven Marines and a Navy corpsman from the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment were charged in June 2006 with kidnapping and murdering Hashim Ibrahim Awad, 52, two months earlier. They were accused of taking him from his home, marching him to a ditch and shooting him to death.

Hutchins, of Plymouth, Mass., was the only defendant convicted of murder and the only one currently in prison.

Navy corpsman Petty Officer 3rd Class Melson J. Bacos of Franklin, Wis., pleaded guilty to kidnapping, conspiracy to kidnap and making false official statements. Marine Lance Cpl. John J. Jodka III, of Encinitas, Calif., pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Marine Lance Cpl. Tyler A. Jackson, of Tracy, Calif., pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Marine Lance Cpl. Jerry E. Shumate Jr., of Matlock, Wash., pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

All will get either an honorable or general discharge, Brenton said. They have no recourse to appeal.

Three other defendants left the military after their prison terms ended.

Mabus launched his review at the request of members of Congress, including Rep. Bill Delahunt, D-Mass., who were seeking clemency for Hutchins.

Attorneys for two of the four men ordered removed from the military said the decision amounted to second-guessing officials who considered the case.

"The political process should play no part in the court-martial system," said Joseph Casas, who represents Jodka. "The fact that it did weakens the confidence in our military justice system."

Jeremiah Sullivan, who represents Bacos, said his client was promoted to petty officer 3rd class after pleading guilty and was recently awarded a Good Conduct Medal.

"The secretary of the Navy can legally make this decision, but it's the wrong moral decision," Sullivan said. "I'm seething about this."

Richard Brannon, an attorney for Hutchins, said he will continue to ask members of Congress to pursue clemency. "I haven't given up," he said.

The rulings by Mabus were reported earlier by the North County Times.