Los Angeles – A US Marine found guilty in the murder of a handicapped Iraqi was discharged for bad conduct by a military jury on Friday, but the court said he need serve no more jail time than the 520 days he had already spent behind bars, a military spokesman confirmed. Prosecutors in the court martial of Lance Corporal Trent Thomas, 25, had asked that Thomas be sentenced to a dishonourable discharge and 15 years in prison as a warning to other young Marines to follow the laws of war.
In the sentencing at Camp Pendleton in California, Thomas was also degraded from lance corporal to private, the lowest rank among Marines, military spokesman Sean Gibson said. Gibson said the jury gave no reason for its more lenient sentence.
Thomas was convicted on Wednesday of kidnapping and conspiracy to murder a 54-year-old handicapped Iraqi in Hamdaniya in April 2006 after their convoy had come under attack.
Thomas and other soldiers were charged with forcing Hashem Ibrahim, a father of 11, out of his house and shooting him. They then placed the body alongside a road with a shovel in an attempt to make it look like Ibrahim was a victim of his own bomb.
According to the military court, Thomas was the leader in kidnapping the Iraqi. At first, he admitted guilt, but then changed his plea to not-guilty. Thomas was acquitted Wednesday of premeditated murder, a charge that could have meant life without the possibility of parole.
Two other US soldiers involved are still facing trial – one began Friday and another is to start next week – while five of their colleagues have confessed to lesser charges and received sentences of 12 months to eight years.
The military jurors in the Thomas case were all Marines, many of whom had also served in Iraq. Thomas’ attorney argued that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder on his third tour of duty in Iraq and said a long sentence would mean that Marines have abandoned one of their own.
In a separate case, three enlisted Marines are accused of killing civilians in Haditha. Two are awaiting preliminary hearings; a hearing officer has recommended that the charges be dismissed against a third.