August 21, 2006

As hearings loom, charges mount in Hamdaniya case

By Gidget Fuentes
Staff writer

OCEANSIDE, Calif. — The first of eight preliminary hearings will begin later this month at Camp Pendleton, where seven Marines and one Navy corpsman face charges of premeditated murder, kidnapping and conspiracy in the April death of an Iraqi man in Hamdaniya, officials announced Aug. 7.

The hearings will mark the start of what’s expected to be a busy autumn for investigators, prosecutors and defense attorneys, with the recent additional filings of assault charges against three of those seven Marines and another three leathernecks in the same unit.

The first of the preliminary hearings, known as Article 32 sessions, will begin Aug. 28 when the investigating officer will hear evidence against Lance Cpl. Jerry E. Shumate Jr., said Lt. Col. Sean Gibson, a Marine Corps Forces Central Command spokesman at Camp Pendleton.

On Sept. 25, officials plan to hold joint hearings involving four of the men: Cpl. Marshall L. Magincalda, Lance Cpl. Robert B. Pennington, Pfc. John J. Jodka III and Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Melson J. Bacos.

On Oct. 18, a joint hearing will convene to hear charges involving the remaining three: Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III, Cpl. Trent D. Thomas and Lance Cpl. Tyler A. Jackson.

It’s unclear at this point how many days the hearings will last or how many witnesses will be questioned by the investigating officer in person or by telephone.

The start dates for the hearings are tentative and could change, Gibson said.

Article 32 hearings are intended to determine whether there is sufficient evidence for the case to move to a court-martial or to drop the charges.

Shumate, a 20-year-old who was on his first deployment to Iraq, also faces charges of larceny, assault, housebreaking and obstruction of justice.

The eight men, all from Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, and known by local supporters as the “Pendleton 8,” remain confined at the Camp Pendleton brig, where they have been held since May 24.

They were initially held May 11 while in Iraq, after local residents in Hamdaniya told battalion leaders that the service members had shot and killed Hashim Ibrahim Awad. Military investigators believe the men broke into Awad’s home on April 26, took him away, shot him and then tried to cover it up by planting shell casings, a stolen shovel and an AK47 assault rifle to make it appear that the Iraqi was an insurgent when they shot him.

That investigation has branched off to new inquiries into other actions allegedly taken by Kilo Company members during their deployment in Iraq. The new charges came as 3/5 was returning to Camp Pendleton from its seven-month combat deployment.

According to the latest charges against him by the Corps, Shumate faces an additional charge of assault involving an alleged attack April 10 on another Iraqi, Khalid Hamad Daham, also in Hamdaniya.

Corps officials filed additional assault charges against Hutchins and Thomas on Aug. 3 in connection with the same incident, and Hutchins also faces two additional assault charges involving alleged assaults of two other men, Hassam Hamza Fayall and Ali Haraj Rbashby, officials said.

It doesn’t end there. Officials also charged three other Marines with the men’s company — Lance Cpls. Henry D. Lever and Saul H. Lopezromo and Pfc. Derek I. Lewis — with assault in the alleged April 10 attack on Hamad. The three Marines allegedly punched and kneed Hamad in his head, face and torso, according to the official charges.

The three Marines were initially confined in Iraq and were returned in late May to Camp Pendleton, where they were placed on base-only restriction for several weeks.

However, they remain at the base assigned to 1st Marine Division’s headquarters battalion and are not under restrictions or confinement, Gibson said.

Their men’s platoon commander, 1st Lt. Nathan Phan, might face similar assault charges in connection with the incident, defense attorney David P. Sheldon told the San Diego Union-Tribune. Gibson, however, wouldn’t confirm the report and said late Aug. 10 that no additional charges involving 3/5 men haves been made.