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thedrifter
07-28-06, 08:52 AM
Marine accused in Iraq death has parents' support

By Nathan Hurst
Seattle Times staff reporter

It was almost Lance Cpl. Robert B. Pennington's 22nd birthday, and although he was seeing his parents for the first time since he left for his third tour of duty in Iraq in January, there wasn't much to celebrate.

Pennington, a 2002 graduate of Kamiak High School in Mukilteo, and seven others in his Marine Corps unit, are being detained at California's Camp Pendleton on murder and kidnapping charges in the death of an Iraqi civilian.

But Pennington's parents, Terry and Deanna, insist their son is innocent.

"They're all very confident they did nothing wrong, and because of that, we will support him until the truth comes out," said Terry Pennington, 57, speaking by phone from his new home in Maui, Hawaii.

The Penningtons, who are self-employed and work from home, had been planning a family move to Hawaii from the Snohomish County home where their son grew up for months before his legal troubles with the Marines began, he said.

Their visit to Camp Pendleton late last month was emotional and difficult, Terry Pennington said. But it also gave them a chance to connect with seven other Marines and their families, all facing the same difficult situation.

Lance Cpl. Jerry Shumate Jr., who is also charged in the case, grew up in Washington and attended Mary M. Knight High School in Grays Harbor County where he played basketball and football.

The visit to Camp Pendleton also gave the Penningtons hope.

"Every one of them looked like the kid next door from middle America," Terry Pennington said of the eight Marines charged. "They weren't down or miserable. They were normal guys in good spirits."

The Marines were charged in the April 26 death of Hashim Ibrahim Awad, an unarmed Iraqi civilian allegedly pulled from his home and shot as U.S. troops hunted for insurgents. The story caught the attention of the national media and sparked outrage among politicians and those opposed to the conflict.

After receiving thousands of letters, e-mails and calls of support, he said, Terry Pennington started up Defendrob.com, a Web site soliciting support for his son.

Other families have followed suit. Each defends the soldiers' innocence and asks for letters of support and donations to offset legal expenses.

Terry Pennington said he prints out every e-mail he receives, bundles them along with snail mail and ships the messages to his son regularly.

With a strong — and growing — backing, he said, it's getting easier to cope with his son's predicament.

"My e-mail inbox overflows every day with messages from enlisted members, former enlisted members and other people from around the country who think this situation is wrong," he said. "I know people in the military who are hanging it up because of the way this is being handled."

Since news of the charges surfaced last month, military officials have kept relatively quiet about the case. Pennington's son and the other Marines have been detained at Camp Pendleton since they were charged. If military prosecutors decide to push for premeditated murder, they could face the death penalty.

David M. Brahms, the retired Marine and lawyer who's representing Pennington's son, spoke out against top military officials for leaking information about the alleged incident before charges were formally filed.

Pennington blames growing political pressure from Congress and the country's anti-war movement for his son's situation. However, he said, the support from around the country has helped his family get through the ordeal.

Pennington's son is waiting for a so-called Article 32 hearing that will decide whether the military's evidence is enough to warrant a court-martial. Pennington said he has no idea when that could come about.

"This could go on for years now," he said. "That's the worst part — we just don't know."

Ellie