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Marine Pleads Guilty in Iraq Murder
Associated Press  |  January 19, 2007
CAMP PENDLETON, California - A U.S. Marine corporal pleaded guilty to kidnapping and murdering an unarmed Iraqi civilian last year, and said he and other servicemen went after him because they were "sick and tired of getting bombed."

Cpl. Trent Thomas, 25, is the first of seven Marines and a Navy medic accused in the case to plead guilty to murder. Four others have pleaded guilty to reduced charges in exchange for their testimony.

Prosecutors said the eight-man squad kidnapped 52-year-old Hashim Ibrahim Awad in Hamdania, took him to a roadside hole and shot him to death, placing an AK-47 and shovel by his body to make it look as if he was an insurgent caught planting a bomb.

Thomas, who was on his second tour of Iraq during the April 26 killing, said Thursday the group planned to go after a known insurgent but was compromised and went to a neighboring house instead. The judge asked why the group proceeded with the plan.

"We would get someone else to make a statement that Marines, we were sick and tired of getting bombed," Thomas said.

He and other squad members seized Awad from a house, walked him to the hole, cuffed his hands and threw him to the ground.

Awad spoke little English, Thomas said, but he pleaded with the group of four Marines as they led him away.

"He started asking, 'Why, mister, why?'" Thomas said. "We didn't say anything."

Awad was struggling to get free, Thomas said, so he and others bound his hands and feet. Thomas said Lance Cpl. Robert Pennington tried to force Awad to lose consciousness by choking him.

The Marine said someone fired a shot, and then he and others in the squad opened fire. Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III went up to the victim to make sure he was dead, Thomas said.

"Sgt. Hutchins shot Mr. Awad with a three-round burst to the head to do the dead check," Thomas said.

Hutchins is awaiting trial on murder and other charges. He has not yet entered a plea. His attorney, Richard Brannon, did not immediately return phone messages Thursday, though he has previously said he did not think Hutchins did anything wrong.

Thomas is to be sentenced in the coming weeks. He faces up to life in prison without the possibility of parole, though under his plea agreement he is likely to receive a more lenient sentence.

Pennington is also awaiting trial. He has claimed his rights were violated when investigators interviewed him about the incident.

Another squad member, Cpl. Marshall L. Magincalda, also faces charges in the killing. Magincalda, 23, has pleaded not guilty to murder and other charges and is awaiting trial.

The killing is but one in a series of alleged atrocities committed by U.S. forces in Iraq.

In another case Thursday, one of five U.S. soldiers accused of the March 12, 2006, rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl, who was killed along with three members of her family, is expected to plead guilty to rape and premeditated murder, his attorney said.

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