Graner Testimony Spikes England's Plea Deal

Army Pfc. Lynndie England's attempt to plead guilty to abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib dissolves after testimony from the father of her child. A military judge declared a mistrial and threw out the plea deal after hearing from Charles Graner, a central figure in the case.

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The military judge hearing Lynndie England's court-martial on charges that came out of the Abu Ghraib abuse has declared a mistrial. The judge said testimony that was intended to reduce England's sentence actually contradicted her guilty plea. The entire legal process will now have to start again from the beginning. NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.

ARI SHAPIRO reporting:

Charles Graner was the defense witness everyone was waiting for. The man who's been called the ringleader of the prison abuse scandal is currently serving 10 years in prison for his crimes, and yesterday, for the first time since this saga began, he made a statement under oath about what happened at Tier 1A at Abu Ghraib prison. It did not go the way the defense team had planned.

In his testimony, Graner seemed to show affection for England. Their seven-month-old child cried in the hallway before Graner began speaking. The witness called her Lyn. He said she used to come by the prison when he was working the night shift because they had heat and a coffeepot there. He said it was a safe place from the outside world. Then Graner began to describe the circumstances that led him to take pictures of England standing with what he called a tether around a naked detainee's neck. Graner said it was the safest way to legitimately get the prisoner out of the cell. In other words, he didn't think he'd committed a crime and that was a problem because England had already pleaded guilty to conspiring to mistreat detainees, and according to the judge, you can't conspire with someone who doesn't know they're doing something wrong.

A conspiracy requires at least two people the judge said. Graner's testimony presented a defense to the conspiracy charge. The judge had warned against this. On the first day of the trial, he told England, `If you're telling me you have a defense, you're telling me you're not really guilty. If that were to come up and I can't resolve the issue, it means I enter a plea of not guilty on your behalf. You lose the pretrial agreement and the trial starts all over again.' That's exactly what happened yesterday. The judge said there was no way to proceed with the plea agreement as written. He blamed the defense team. `You're withdrawing from the plea,' he said, `because you didn't live up to the agreement.' Defense witnesses were supposed to only present mitigating and extenuating testimony that could lessen England's sentence, not testimony that would exonerate the accused altogether. But Graner's testimony could not be revoked. Intentionally or not, he had sabotaged England's plea deal.

The lawyers would not speak with reporters after the trial, so there's no way to know if they were surprised by Graner's testimony, but the day before he took the stand, he gave a clue to his thinking. He handed reporters a note as he left the courthouse that day. It said in part, `It is my understanding that as a prisoner, I am not allowed to speak with the press. I am, however, allowed to write to the press. So here you are.' It went on, `It was very upsetting to see Lyn plead guilty to her charges.' Graner's testimony undid that guilty plea.

Now England will return to her duties doing clerical work in the Army and taking care of her baby. The commander who oversees Ft. Hood will review the charges against the Army private. He could call for another Article 32 hearing, which is similar to a civilian grand jury proceeding. An investigating officer could then send the case to trial again or the commander has the option to dismiss the charges against England altogether.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Killeen, Texas.

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