The War Profiteers - War Crimes, Kidnappings, Torture and Big Money
November 15th, 2006 - Jodka Sentenced to 18 Months for his Role in Hamdania Killing
By Mark Walker
North County Times
November 15, 2006
Camp Pendleton - An apologetic Marine private who faced as much as 15 years in prison was sentenced Wednesday to 18 months in the brig with credit for six months already served and will be discharged from the service for his role in the killing of a retired Iraqi policeman in April.
"First and foremost, I offer a sincere apology to the Awad family for the suffering my actions in Iraq caused them," Pfc. John Jodka III said at the start of his daylong sentencing hearing in a Camp Pendleton courtroom.
The Encinitas native also apologized to his family and "to the Marine Corps whose highest ideals I failed to uphold."
Jodka, a 20-year-old 2004 graduate of San Dieguito Academy, pleaded guilty last month to aggravated assault and conspiracy to obstruct justice in the April 26 shooting death of Hashim Ibrahim Awad, a civilian noncombatant who made his home in the village of Hamdania, Iraq.
Wednesday's hearing was the culmination of Jodka's court-martial presided over by Lt. Col. David Jones, who initially sentenced Jodka to five years in prison and a dishonorable discharge. That sentence was set aside, however, in favor of the lesser term as part of Jodka's plea agreement with Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis, the convening authority over the case as commander of the I Marine Expeditionary Force.
The military prosecutor, Lt. Col. John Baker, had urged the stiffer sentence, telling Jones that Jodka helped murder an innocent father of 11, including four children younger than 14 and was one of the men who fired on Awad. None of Awad's survivors has traveled to the U.S. for the court proceedings.
"He had the opportunity to stop the madness ... but he failed to do it," Baker said. "Hashim Awad was a good man, a believer, a forgiving and a very simple man. He was precisely the kind of person that Pfc. Jodka was sent there to help."
Baker said that after the men planned the kidnapping in the evening hours of April 25, Jodka "just sat there with murder in his heart."
Prosecutors also showed a video squad members shot two days after Awad was killed in which Jodka and others are heard using profanity and joking about killing more people. Baker said that video showed Jodka had a "clear disdain for Iraqis and no remorse for the Awad killing."
Defense attorney Joseph Casas urged the judge to consider that Jodka was the lowest-ranking and least experienced among the men charged and was a "freshly minted Marine" who had been in Iraq less than five months.
Casas also said Jodka was unduly influenced by the platoon leader, Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III.
"He's here today because of a failure of leadership," Casas said. "He was led by an unscrupulous squad leader."
Before the prosecution and defense made their arguments, Jodka testified that he "agonized" for months before deciding to admit wrongdoing.
"I decided to plead guilty because in the end it was the right thing to do," Jodka said in a strong and unhalting voice. "The most difficult part for me ... was my integrity and the need for truth as opposed to loyalty to my squad."
The bespectacled Marine also described frustration he and his squad mates experienced in Hamdania over repeatedly arresting suspected insurgents only to see them released within a few days.
One of those suspected insurgents was a man named Saleh Gowad, an Iraqi the squad had arrested at least three times during a 45-day period, Jodka said. It was Gowad that the platoon was originally looking for, Jodka and other members of the squad have testified.
Jodka also said that he did not know that the man seized was Awad, who was grabbed by four members of the squad's "kidnap team" after Gowad could not be located.
During his statement, Jodka talked about how he hoped to one day become a history teacher and described the intense support his family has given him since he was returned to the U.S. from Iraq in late May, placed in the brig and charged with killing Awad.
Jodka's mother, Carolyn, a pharmaceutical company scientist, testified her son struggled with the decision to plead guilty because he wanted to remain loyal to the other members of his platoon.
She also expressed hope that he will one day be able to put the incident behind him.
"I think it will shape his life - I hope it doesn't define his life," she said.
His father, John Jodka Jr., testified he had been a vocal, outspoken defender because of his love for the oldest of his three children. And like his son, the San Diego naval shipyard worker also apologized to the Awad family.
"I give you my heartfelt sympathies and apologies," the elder Jodka said. "I grieve for your loss."
As for his son, he said: "He was molded and shaped by the Marine Corps to be a warrior. Now that has passed and he has done his duty and taken responsibility for the things he has done right and the things he has done wrong."
At the conclusion of the defense presentations, another of Jodka's attorneys, Jane Siegel, called on him to make a final statement.
"I was trained to be a good Marine," Jodka said. "I am not really a bad person. I am not a bad Marine, and I don't hurt people for fun. I don't enjoy killing people for fun."
Jodka is the third member of the squad from the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment to plead guilty in Awad's death. In exchange for his guilty pleas, charges of murder, kidnapping, conspiracy and related offenses were dropped.
Last month, the platoon corpsman, Petty Officer Melson Bacos, pleaded guilty to kidnapping and conspiracy to kidnap and make false official statements and was sentenced to 12 months in the brig and reduced in rank. The military judge who presided over his case sentenced Bacos to 10 years in prison, a sentence that also was set aside for the lesser term because of his plea agreement with Lt. Gen. Mattis.
This morning, Lance Cpl. Tyler Jackson is scheduled to be sentenced for his guilty pleas to aggravated assault and conspiracy to obstruct justice.
Next week, Lance Cpl. Jerry Shumate Jr., will become the fourth man to admit taking part in Awad's death and will also plead guilty to aggravated assault and conspiracy to obstruct justice, according to his attorney, Steven Immel.
Sgt. Hutchins, the platoon leader, has been accused by the men he commanded as being the mastermind behind the plan that led to Awad's killing. Each of those who have pleaded guilty said he told the squad that if any man objected the plan would not go forward. None did.
The 22-year-old Hutchins, who has maintained his innocence, was ordered by Mattis on Tuesday to stand trial for his role in the incident and for his participation in an April 10 assault on three other Iraqis in Hamdania.
After Jodka's sentence was pronounced, Casas and Jodka's family members spoke briefly with reporters. Casas said the agreement he won for his client sends a message to other U.S. troops that actions such as Jodka's will not be tolerated.
Jodka's father said he believes military authorities need to review the rules of engagement in Iraq, rules his son said when he entered his guilty pleas Oct. 6 that he knew he had violated in the Awad slaying.
By Teri Figueroa and Mark Walker
North County Times
November 15, 2006
Camp Pendleton - It will be a small ceremony. And, undoubtedly, under the watchful eye of guards. But the soon-to-be-married couple is willing to accept that.
So at noon today, if all goes as planned, Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III, the platoon leader and highest-ranking Marine of eight men jailed in the death of an Iraqi civilian, will for a few moments be just a man at the altar watching his high school sweetheart glide down the aisle to say "I do."
Hutchins, 22, and fiancee Reyna Griffin, who met on a school bus when they were high school sophomores in a community about 40 miles south of Boston, have long known they wanted to get married. They have a 2-year-old daughter named Kylie.
"We're both excited about it," Griffin, 22, said in a phone interview Wednesday from her Riverside County home. "Even considering the circumstances, it's something to be happy about. We've known each other for eight years. We've waited long enough."
The nuptials, Hutchins' father Larry said Wednesday, are a bright light in the midst of the fog of the accusations and upcoming trial for his son.
"It's the one good thing that's going on," the sergeant's father said in a phone interview Wednesday from his Plymouth, Mass., home.
Base officials on Wednesday confirmed that the wedding ceremony would take place.
"The unit has set up a ceremony that balances the security concerns with the dignity and sanctity that the ceremony rates," said Capt. Nathan Braden, a base spokesman. "We are trying to do it right for them."
Braden said that because Hutchins' case has not gone to trial, the sergeant is afforded the presumption of innocence, and as such, still receives all his pay. Once the couple is married, he said, Hutchins' wife will be given the same benefits afforded to other military spouses, including medical care and the possibility of base housing.
The wedding falls on a day when the third of Hutchins' squad mates, Lance Cpl. Tyler Jackson, learns his fate for pleading guilty to a role in the April 26 shooting death of Hashim Ibrahim Awad, a 52-year-old retired Iraqi policeman, in the rural village of Hamdania.
Hutchins, along with six other Marines and a Navy corpsman, all members of Kilo Company from the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment based at Camp Pendleton, was charged June 21 with allegedly snatching Awad from his home, marching him to a dirt hole, shooting him to death, then staging the killing scene to make it appear Awad was planting a roadside bomb.
Since Oct. 6, three of the junior-ranking men have pleaded guilty - and painted Hutchins as the architect of the alleged murder plot - and a fourth man has reached a plea deal with prosecutors, although he has not yet officially entered a guilty plea. Attorneys for the remaining four defendants, including Hutchins, have said their clients maintain their innocence.
Hutchins faces a list of charges in Awad's death, including murder, kidnapping and conspiracy. He's also charged in an unrelated case, the alleged April 10 assault of three Iraqis in Hamdania. Hutchins faces a life sentence if convicted in the Awad case.
Griffin, who moved to Southern California this fall, said the long-committed couple decided that, after the first of the accused men decided to plead guilty last month, it was time to press forward with the wedding.
"No matter how long it takes, we are still going to be together," Griffin said. "I didn't want to wait ... and neither did he."
As she spoke on the phone, her roommate walked in the door with a package - Griffin's wedding dress had arrived in the mail. The first two dresses donated to Griffin didn't work out, the young bride said. But, as it would turn out, a designer in Boston heard the couple was hoping to get married - and called Tuesday to donate a wedding dress. The timing of the offer was serendipitous.
And, Griffin told her soon-to-be father-in-law after trying it on, the dress is beautiful.