U.S. Marine Pleads Not Guilty In Kidnapping, Murder of Iraqi Civilian

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The New York Sun

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — A Marine pleaded not guilty yesterday to murder and kidnapping charges stemming from the death of a civilian man in rural Iraq.

Private First Class John Jodka III is one of seven Marines and a Navy corpsman charged with kidnapping and murdering 52-year-old Hashim Ibrahim Awad last April in the town of Hamdania.

He was the first of the eight to be arraigned. The arraignment for Corporal Marshall Magincalda was set for later yesterday, and a third Marine is expected to be arraigned next week. Preliminary hearings for the other troops are expected in coming weeks.

At his arraignment, Private Jodka spoke little, simply confirming his identity and entering his plea. Through his attorney, Joseph Casas, he said he wanted to be tried by a jury of Marines, rather than by a judge alone.

Private Jodka wore a short-sleeved khaki service uniform that was decorated with several medal ribbons. He took notes throughout the proceedings.

Judge Colonel Steven Folsom said he was concerned with the amount of information that had been disseminated by both civilian defense lawyers and Camp Pendleton on its Web site about Private Jodka’s case. He issued a temporary order prohibiting both the government and the defense from discussing details of the case with the press.

“There is a real possibility we could have [jury] members from the local Camp Pendleton area,” Judge Folsom said. “And I was concerned with pretrial exposure to those members.”

Judge Folsom also issued an order prohibiting potential jury members from talking to the press about the case. He ruled that a closed-circuit television feed from court proceedings should remain switched on.

A Marine prosecutor, Lieutenant Colonel John Baker, said he was concerned the order would make it too hard for the public to get information on the case.

“The process seems to be overly mechanical, is not flexible, and will delay information getting out,” Colonel Baker said.

Judge Folsom said the order was not perfect and would be reviewed at a motions hearing October 25. The gag order does not cover the other seven troops — yet.

Both Private Jodka and Corporal Magincalda also are charged with conspiracy and housebreaking. Private Jodka also faces an assault charge and Corporal Magincalda additionally is charged with larceny and making a false official statement. All eight troops have been in the brig since May. Private Jodka pleaded not guilty to all counts.

Private Jodka, 20, and Corporal Magincalda, 23, face up to life in prison if convicted. The commanding general in the case last week ruled that the two and a third Marine, Lance Corporal Jerry Shumate, should not face the death penalty. Decisions on whether the other five troops should stand trial — and if they will face the death penalty — will come after their preliminary hearings.

According to prosecutors, some of the troops kidnapped Awad on April 26, bound his feet, dragged him from his home, and shot him to death in a roadside hole. All have been charged with murder and kidnapping even though charging documents show some of the men did not fire on Awad. This is because they are liable as accomplices, attorneys say.

Charging documents do not spell out a possible motive, but say the group went looking for a known terrorist.

When they couldn’t find one, the documents say, they entered Awad’s home and took him against his will.

Private Jodka is accused of firing his M–249 squad automatic weapon at Awad; four other troops also are alleged to have opened fire.

Some of the troops — including Corporal Magincalda, according to charge sheets — are accused of stealing an AK–47 assault rifle and a shovel and placing them in the hole with Awad’s body, apparently to make it look like he was an insurgent planting a bomb. The Navy corpsman is accused of firing the AK–47 in the air and Magincalda of placing the expended shell casings by Awad’s body.

Since the start of the Iraq war in 2003, at least 14 members of the American military have been convicted in connection with the deaths of Iraqis. Two received sentences of up to life in prison, while most others were given little or no jail time.

Private Jodka’s trial date was set for March 5, 2007.

The New York Sun

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