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November, 15th, 2006 - Marine in Court to be Sentenced for Role in Death of Iraqi Man

News article by the Associated Press

News article by the San Diego Union-Tribune

Summary of the Hashim Al-Zobaie Killing

Marine in Court to be Sentenced for Role in Death of Iraqi Man


By Linda Deutsch

Associated Press

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Camp Pendleton, Calif. - A Marine private who confessed to participating in his squad's killing of an unarmed civilian in Iraq apologized Wednesday in a military court to the victim's family, his own family and to "my Marine Corps whose highest ideals I have failed to uphold."


But Pfc. John J. Jodka III, 20, never fully explained how the squad of seven Marines and a Navy corpsman came to kill Hashim Ibrahim Awad, 52, who was not the insurgent they were seeking in the village of Hamdania.


Jodka spoke during a hearing before a judge, Lt. Col. David Jones, who was to sentence him later in the day.


Prosecutors charged the squad with kidnapping and murder, alleging members kidnapped Awad when they couldn't find a known insurgent, took him to a roadside hole, shot him and then tried to cover it up.


As part of a plea deal, Jodka pleaded guilty Oct. 27 to charges of assault and conspiracy to obstruct justice, and prosecutors dropped other charges including murder and kidnapping. The deal required Jodka to testify.


The closest Jodka came to an explanation for the killing was to say, "I wasn't able to tell who the man was because it was very dark. There was no moon and I was far away at a distance."


Asked by his civilian lawyer, Jane Siegel, whether he would have fired if he knew that the target was not Saleh Gawad, a known insurgent, Jodka replied firmly, "Absolutely not."


Jodka, of Encinitas, Calif., said he agonized for many months before he decided to plead guilty.


"I decided to plead guilty because in the end it was the right thing to do," Jodka said. "I had to weigh in myself the need for truth as opposed to the loyalty to the squad I had bonded with in Iraq."


Jodka spoke in an unsworn statement which meant prosecutors could not cross-examine him.


He made references to a video that will be placed in evidence apparently showing his squad clowning around during the playing of a song by rapper 50 Cent. In the video, another defendant asks Jodka to make a statement which has not been revealed.


"I was blowing off steam, just making a comment (for the video) ... trying to start the day off with a little levity," Jodka said of the tape.


Jones agreed to a defense request to keep the video out of the public courtroom, with the judge viewing segments in his chambers. The prosecutor, Lt. Col. John Baker, also agreed to the request.


Jodka also described how he always wanted to be a Marine, looked up to his fire team leader and squad leader for guidance in combat, and had received little counterinsurgency training. He said his squad's interpreter quit, leading to a frustrating inability to communicate with Iraqis.


The prosecution called no witnesses at the hearing, but the defense brought in several.


Two sergeants spoke of the importance of loyalty among members of a squad in the field and of the frustrations which have faced Marines trying to apprehend insurgents who plant explosive devices. One said Gawad was cocky because he had been taken in several times but was released for lack of evidence.


But neither sergeant knew Jodka well and they did not give specific testimony about him.


The most emotional witness for the Marine was his mother, Carolyn Jodka, who spoke of her love for her son, of the anguish in seeing him brought to her in the brig in shackles and "to see this conflict between loyalty to his squad and to the core values of the Marines."


She implored the judge to consider Jodka's youth.


"He's a young man," she said. "He understands his role and he understands what he did was wrong. What I hope is you will enter a just decision and a wise decision so he can go on and have a life beyond this."


She added, "I know this will shape his life. I hope it doesn't define his life."


Jodka was the first Marine in the case to get a plea deal. The Navy corpsman and two other Marines also have made plea agreements. The corpsman, Petty Officer 3rd Class Melson J. Bacos, was sentenced to 10 years in prison but will only serve one because of his plea agreement.


Associated Press Writer Thomas Watkins contributed to this report.


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Marine Fights Iraq killing Case

Corporal will face March court-martial


By Rick Rogers and David Hasemyer

San Diego Union-Tribune

November 15, 2006


Camp Pendleton – A Marine accused of being a leader in the abduction and killing of an Iraqi man last spring pleaded not guilty yesterday and had his court-martial set for March 12.


Cpl. Trent D. Thomas affirmed his decision to fight charges that he helped orchestrate the execution of Hashim Ibrahim Awad on April 26 in Hamdaniya, a town west of Baghdad.


Standing at attention in a courtroom on the base, Thomas answered, “Yes, sir!” when the judge, Lt. Col. Tracy A. Daly, asked if he wanted to plead not guilty to charges of murder, kidnapping, housebreaking, larceny and other crimes.


With his wife sitting behind him, Thomas also said he would challenge assault charges arising from a separate incident in Hamdaniya.


Thomas is among eight members of the Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment implicated in Awad's death. Court documents portray him as one of four key players in the incident.


Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III, the alleged mastermind, learned yesterday that he would face court-martial for the same two incidents involving Thomas. The decision was made by Lt. Gen. James Mattis, commanding general of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton.


Three Marines and a sailor have finalized or announced plea agreements with the prosecution. In exchange for lighter sentences based on lesser charges, they have pledged to testify against Hutchins, Thomas and two other suspects who are expected to go through trial.


Shortly after midnight April 26, Thomas set off to help catch a suspected insurgent who supposedly killed four Marines with roadside bombs, according to court documents and testimony from previous court hearings.


After failing to find the purported insurgent, Thomas and three comrades went to a neighboring house and snatched Awad, prosecutors said. They allegedly bound Awad and forced him into a shallow hole. Then they and other members of the unit opened fire on him, the court documents said.


Expecting an investigation into the matter, the squad allegedly tried to make it look as if Awad were a terrorist who provoked a firefight.


After weeks of proclaiming their innocence, the accused began making deals with the prosecution in October.


Petty Officer 3rd Class Melson Bacos was the first to strike a plea agreement. He will serve less than a year in prison after pleading guilty to kidnapping and conspiracy charges.


Pfc. John J. Jodka III and Lance Cpl. Tyler A. Jackson have pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Jodka is scheduled to be sentenced today, while Thomas' sentencing is slated for Thursday.


Lance Cpl. Jerry E. Schumate Jr. has agreed to plead guilty to aggravated assault and conspiracy to obstruct justice during a court-martial next week.


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