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Sailor Charged in Iraqi's Slaying to Testify Against 7 Codefendants

The Navy corpsman will plead guilty to lesser counts, his lawyer says. The rest, all Marines, are accused of conspiracy, kidnapping and murder.

October 06, 2006|Tony perry | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — A Navy corpsman will plead guilty to reduced charges in the April killing of an Iraqi man and provide testimony that can be used against seven Marines charged in the case, his lawyer said Thursday.

Murder and conspiracy counts against Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Melson Bacos, 21, will be dropped today in exchange for a guilty plea to lesser charges, attorney Jeremiah Sullivan III said.

At the hearing set for Camp Pendleton, Bacos will answer the judge's questions about the April 26 killing in Hamandiya, west of Baghdad. The seven Marines face charges of murder, conspiracy and kidnapping.

Sullivan declined to disclose what Bacos' sentence would be but said he would remain in the Navy and have a "bright future ahead of him." The North County Times, which first published news of the plea bargain Wednesday, said Bacos would be sentenced to a year in the brig. Bacos was not accused of firing his M-16 rifle.

The eight defendants have been behind bars since being ordered back to Camp Pendleton in May. After the plea deal was reached, Bacos was moved to the brig at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego, Marine officials said.

Marine Pfc. John Jodka also was moved Wednesday from the brig at Camp Pendleton, but a gag order issued by the judge in his case keeps attorneys from saying whether he, too, has reached a plea bargain.

The eight, all members of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment, 1st Marine Division, are accused of dragging Hashim Ibrahim Awad, 52, from his home, tying his hands and feet, fatally shooting him and then planting an AK-47 rifle and shovel near his body to suggest he was an insurgent caught burying a roadside bomb.

At an Aug. 30 hearing, a prosecutor said that two defendants, Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III and Cpl. Trent D. Thomas, had confessed to the slaying and that a third, Lance Cpl. Robert Pennington, provided details about a conspiracy to cover up the crime.

Defense attorneys said the comments were statements, not confessions.

As a member of the battalion, Bacos accompanied Marines into combat to provide additional firepower and emergency medical care. He received a Purple Heart for his first deployment in late 2004, when the battalion was a key part of the fight against insurgents in Fallouja. The battalion suffered 19 deaths and more than 50 wounded.

In a video posted on his lawyer's website, Bacos talked of the aftermath of one daylong battle in December 2004. He recalled how he tried to save the lives of Marines, their blood smearing his hands.

"Everyone was tired, but there were Marines to take care of because of the firefight," he said.

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