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Marine is found guilty in stabbing death of Iraqi soldier

December 14, 2007|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

CAMP PENDLETON — A military jury Thursday found a Marine lance corporal guilty of negligent homicide in the stabbing death of an Iraqi soldier last year and of lying to superiors about the incident.

The jury -- five enlisted Marines and three officers, all of whom have served in Iraq -- found Lance Cpl. Delano Holmes not guilty of unpremeditated murder, which could have brought a life sentence. The lying and negligent homicide convictions carry a maximum penalty of eight years in prison and a dishonorable discharge.

Holmes, 22, a reservist from Indianapolis, has been in the brig since May.

He was convicted in the stabbing death of Iraqi Pvt. Munther Jasem Muhammed Hassin. The pair were on sentry duty in downtown Fallouja, west of Baghdad, in the predawn hours of New Year's Eve.

Holmes did not testify during the trial, but, after the conviction, as part of the sentencing phase, he made a tearful, unsworn statement to the jury. He asked to be allowed to remain in the Marine Corps, possibly as a chaplain.

"I beg you to allow me to go back," he said. "All I'm asking for is another chance. I love the Marine Corps. . . . I love my brothers in the Marine Corps. My sense of family is very different because of how I grew up."

Testimony by his foster mother and a former high school teacher suggested that Holmes grew up in a troubled family. He often came to school hungry, they said, and his father threatened to move him out of state to keep him from attending college.

A court later terminated the parents' rights in favor of placement with a local minister, who now is seeking to adopt him.

"It seems most of my life I've been a child of misfortune," Holmes told jurors, his voice breaking.

The sentencing phase was due to continue this morning with testimony from a psychologist. Although there is a maximum sentence, there is no minimum; jurors could order Holmes freed without further time behind bars. The verdict and sentence will be sent to Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland, commanding general of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, who could set aside the verdict or reduce the sentence.

Hassin was stabbed multiple times with Holmes' bayonet. An autopsy on Hassin found 17 stab wounds, 26 cuts and one chop that nearly severed his nose.

Holmes told Naval Criminal Investigators Service agents that he feared Hassin was trying to signal insurgent snipers by lighting a cigarette and using a lighted cellphone.

The court-martial judge, in his instructions to the jurors, said a negligent homicide conviction was appropriate if they thought that Holmes had the right to defend himself but did not have the right to use deadly force because the threat to his life was not imminent.

Prosecutors said that many of the stab wounds were to Hassin's back, probably inflicted as Holmes straddled his body on the floor.

Holmes told investigators that while the two were fighting, the Iraqi reached for an AK-47. Initially, he also said a second Iraqi was part of the fight, and that one of the Iraqis fired the AK-47 -- but he later admitted those were lies.

Several Marines testified that Holmes was courageous during his duty in Iraq, where he was part of a quick-reaction force that came to the aid of Marines engaged in firefights. Holmes served as a turret-gunner in a Humvee.

"He put rounds where rounds needed to go," said Sgt. David Lindenschmid, who served with Holmes in Iraq. "I trust my life to Lance Cpl. Delano Holmes."

tony.perry@latimes.com

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