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THE CONFLICT IN IRAQ: MARINE ON TRIAL; ASSESSING AN
ATTACK

Marine convicted of conspiracy to kill in Hamandiya

Sentencing is to begin today for the corporal. Two others still face court-martial in the 2006 death of an Iraqi.

July 19, 2007|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

CAMP PENDLETON — A military jury Wednesday convicted Marine Cpl. Trent D. Thomas of kidnapping and conspiracy to commit murder in the killing of an Iraqi man in the village of Hamandiya last year.

The jury of three officers and six enlisted personnel deliberated six hours before reaching its verdict. Thomas took the verdict without emotion, but his wife and other family members broke into tears.

Thomas, 25, of St. Louis, was the first Marine to go to trial in the Hamandiya case. Four other Marines and a Navy corpsman also were charged with murder in the case but later pleaded guilty to reduced charges and received sentences of 10 months to eight years. Two other Marines still face court-martial.

The jury that convicted Thomas will decide his sentence. The conspiracy conviction carries a possible life sentence without parole, but jurors could be much more lenient.

Thomas was acquitted of premeditated murder, making a false statement, larceny and housebreaking. A conviction of premeditated murder would have required the jury to sentence him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

"Now that the mandatory minimum is off the table, the panel has a great deal of flexibility," said Victor Kelley, Thomas' lead attorney. "I am confident that the members will do the right thing."

The sentencing is set to begin today.

Thomas pleaded guilty this year to conspiracy, kidnapping and unpremeditated murder, but he withdrew his plea and opted to go to court-martial.

His attorneys argued that Thomas was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and a traumatic brain injury, and could not resist orders from a strong-willed squad leader to be part of a plan to drag an Iraqi from his home and execute him.

Prosecutors said Thomas' actions showed that he knew what he and the others were doing was wrong. Some of the Marines testified that the group hid when a helicopter and aerial drone flew overhead and conspired to make up a story to tell superiors. The group was accused of planting an AK-47 assault rifle near the dead man to make it look like he was a threat.

Thomas was on his third tour in Iraq, a fact from which prosecutors and defense attorneys drew differing lessons. Prosecutors said that, as a noncommissioned officer and combat veteran, Thomas had a responsibility to show leadership and stop the kidnapping plot. But defense attorneys said Thomas was battered and dazed by his combat tours.

Once the jury sets the punishment, the case will be sent to Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis, commanding officer of the Marine Forces Central Command. Under military law, Mattis could overturn the guilty verdicts and reduce the prison term.

After Mattis makes his decision, the case goes automatically to a military appeals court.

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tony.perry@latimes.com

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