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08-11-07, 08:44 AM #1
Judge frees Marine tied to Iraqi's death
Judge frees Marine tied to Iraqi's death
23-year-old serves 15 months of eight-year sentence for role in kidnapping, murder
By Tony Perry
LOS ANGELES TIMES
Contra Costa Times
Article Launched:08/11/2007 03:03:00 AM PDT
The last of five Marines who pleaded guilty in the kidnapping and killing last year of an unarmed Iraqi man in Hamandiya was freed Friday after a review of his sentence.
Lt. Gen. James Mattis, commanding general of Marine Forces Central Command, ordered the release of Marine Pvt. Robert Pennington, who had served 15 months of an eight-year sentence, after a meeting at Camp Pendleton with Pennington and his parents. Pennington was released from the brig at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station.
Mattis' move comes after two courts-martial for the same incident in which Marine juries found two corporals guilty but gave them no jail time beyond the months they spent locked up awaiting trial.
Terry and Deanna Pennington, who waged a vigorous campaign in print media and on television and the Internet on behalf of their 23-year-old son, had traveled to Camp Pendleton from their home in Maui to plead with Mattis for their son's freedom.
"We couldn't be happier," said Terry Pennington after Mattis made his decision, adding that his first priority is to get his son counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder.
A Marine spokesman said Mattis based his decision on three factors: Pendleton was only 21, was not a squad leader and did not fire his weapon. Mattis delayed making a decision on whether Pennington would still get a dishonorable discharge.
Last week, a jury convicted Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins, the squad leader, of unpremeditated murder and sentenced him to 15 years. Mattis is reviewing that sentence.
Pennington was a lance corporal and on his third tour in Iraq when he and seven other members of his squad decided to kidnap and kill an Iraqi as a warning to insurgents to stop attacking Marines in Hamandiya, west of Baghdad.
Prosecutors alleged that Pennington was one of the leaders of the plot, particularly in planting phony evidence to suggest the Iraqi was an insurgent killed in a firefight.
He pleaded guilty in February to conspiracy and kidnapping. His parents said later that he decided to plead guilty after realizing, at that time, that prospective jurors at his court-martial would not be Iraq veterans and thus would not understand the squad's actions.
Pennington received the most severe of the five plea bargain sentences. A Navy corpsman received 12 months in the Camp Pendleton brig, a Marine private first-class 18 months and two lance corporals 21 months each.
Mattis this week ordered the release of Tyler Jackson and Jerry Shumate four months before their scheduled release. John Jodka and corpsman Melson Bacos had served their sentences, with time off for good behavior.
08-11-07, 08:48 AM #2
General frees another Marine convicted of war crimes
By: TERI FIGUEROA - Staff Writer
CAMP PENDLETON ---- The seventh of eight Marines jailed for the execution of an Iraqi man left the brig Friday afternoon, freed by a Camp Pendleton general.
Pvt. Robert Pennington walked free after Lt. Gen. James Mattis granted him clemency, slashing the remaining seven years off Pennington's eight-year sentence.
Pennington struck a lengthy plea deal earlier this year, admitting his role in a plot that left an Iraqi man dead on the side of a road in the rural village of Hamdania on April 26, 2006.
His family said Friday they were overjoyed with the decision to set Pennington free.
"We are in this place of almost suspended animation," Pennington's mother, Deanna Pennington, said in a phone call Friday evening. "We are so happy he is out. Now we can get on with the process of healing."
The general's decision in Pennington's case did not come as a surprise. This week, Mattis issued early releases for three men jailed in the case; four others have served their terms or were set free by juries earlier this summer.
A sense of fairness led him to release most of the men who were jailed for the Iraqi's death, Mattis said in a statement.
The decision Friday left only one defendant in the Hamdania case behind bars: Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins, who crafted the plan and led his squad through its execution.
Last week, a jury convicted Hutchins of murder and handed him a 15-year prison sentence. Marine officials have said Mattis is considering whether to cut Hutchins' sentence as well.
Mattis signaled leniency in a number of war-crime cases this week. He announced Thursday that he would drop charges against two of seven Marines accused in a separate case in which 24 Iraqis were killed in the town of Haditha. The general based that decision on an investigative officer's recommendation.
As an authority over the military case, Mattis has the power to lighten sentences or drop charges against the troops even after juries have convicted or jailed them.
"My sense is that he is deeply engaged in these cases," Pennington's attorney, retired Gen. David Brahms, said of Mattis.
"Very few senior officers would have taken the action that he took," Brahms later added. "He is a Marine warrior, a leader, looking at these cases through that special perspective."
According to testimony from court proceedings, the frustrated eight-man squad went after a suspected insurgent believed to be behind roadside bombings and attacks on U.S. troops. When they couldn't get to him, they grabbed and killed his neighbor.
Charged with murder and other crimes, Pennington pleaded guilty to kidnapping and conspiracy to commit premeditated murder and kidnapping.
In announcing the clemency decision for Pennington, military officials said Mattis took into account that, at the time of the incident, the 21-year-old Pennington was a lance corporal who was neither a squad leader nor a fire team leader.
Pennington did not fire his weapon, although he did help gag the man, according to testimony.
The Washington state native was on his third tour in Iraq.
Contact staff writer Teri Figueroa at (760) 631-6624 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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