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Marine's trial in slaying begins

December 05, 2007|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

CAMP PENDLETON -- The prosecution Tuesday portrayed a Marine charged with killing an Iraqi soldier as a merciless killer who immediately told lies to cover up what he had done, but the defense described him an exemplary lance corporal forced to make a split-second decision in combat.

Maj. Christopher Shaw, the lead prosecutor, told jurors that Lance Cpl. Delano Holmes used his bayonet to inflict 17 stab wounds, 26 cuts and one chop on the Iraqi, and that there was no sign that Holmes sustained any injury.

But defense attorney Steve Cook said Holmes believed that the Iraqi was signaling to an insurgent sniper and followed his Marine training to keep fighting "until the threat is removed."

Holmes, 22, a reservist from Indianapolis, was sharing a tiny sentry post on the second floor of a collapsed building in the city of Fallouja when he allegedly killed Iraqi Pvt. Munther Jasem Muhammed Hassin. The outpost where the sentry post was located has repeatedly been a target for snipers, prosecution witnesses said.

If convicted of unpremeditated murder, Holmes could face life in prison. He also is charged with making a false official report. Initially, Holmes said a second Iraqi had joined Hassin in fighting him and that one of them had fired an AK-47, prosecutors said.

Cook, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice in Orange County, said Holmes believed that the Iraqi was using a lighted cellphone and the glowing tip of a cigarette to signal a sniper in the predawn darkness.

But Shaw noted that Holmes is 6 feet 2 and 190 pounds and was wearing full protective gear. The Iraqi, meanwhile, was 5 feet 4 and 124 pounds and had no protective gear. Shaw told the jurors -- five enlisted Marines and three officers, all veterans of Iraq -- that he did not know why Holmes killed the Iraqi.

"Absent that motive, we're not going to make one up," he said in his opening statement. "This case is about murder and lies."

Holmes, Shaw said, had a radio and could have called for help if he thought the Iraqi was signaling an insurgent.

The incident occurred Jan. 1 at an outpost occupied by U.S. and Iraqi forces.

Holmes was attending college when his reserve group, 1st Battalion, 24th Regiment, was ordered to Iraq. He volunteered to be part of the deployment, his foster mother, Jenni Crowley, told reporters.

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tony.perry@latimes.com

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