Death Penalty Off the Table at Marine's Trial

A Marine corporal will not face the death penalty for shooting an Iraqi civilian. But he still faces several years behind bars. The decision was released during hearing at Camp Pendleton in southern California. Seven Marines and a Navy corpsman have been charged with kidnapping and murdering an Iraqi civilian.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

A Marine corporal from Camp Pendleton here in southern California will not face the death penalty for shooting an Iraqi civilian, but he could still spend several years behind bars. Lance Corporal Jerry Shumate is charged with murder, along with six other Marines and a Navy corpsman.

During a military hearing at Camp Pendleton yesterday, prosecutors laid out a few new details about the case. NPR's John McChesney covered the proceedings and joins us now from just outside the base in Oceanside.

And John, first remind us about this murder, how it happened and who the victim was.

JOHN MCCHESNEY: The victim was a Hashim Ibrahim Awad, a 52-year-old Iraqi. He was killed back in April in the town of Hamdania. And government charge sheets allege that these men dragged him from his house, bound him, put him in a roadside hole, then put a shovel and a rifle down next to him, threw in some expended shells and shot him multiple times.

The men then claimed that he'd been planting a bomb and had fired on them, so they killed him. But Renee, we should remember that these are still only allegations made by the government. They have yet to be proven.

MONTAGNE: And what role do prosecutors say Cpl. Shumate played in this shooting?

MCCHESNEY: Well, they say that he was one of the men who fired at Awad with his M-16, and then they also charged him with lying about what happened that day.

MONTAGNE: So tell us about yesterday's witnesses. What new information did they bring?

MCCHESNEY: Well, there were three investigators from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, NCIS, who testified. They didn't really tell us any new details on what happened that day of the alleged murder. It's pretty clear that both sides in this case have decided that, you know, publicly exposing the gory details might make it impossible to empanel a neutral jury later on.

Shumate's defense attorney, for example, didn't cross-examine any of the witnesses who appeared there.

MONTAGNE: And what did they testify about?

MCCHESNEY: What we got was the details of Shumate's interrogation. One of the investigators offered details about his mood as he was interrogated back in May. He was interrogated twice, by the way, which would indicate they came back to him to try to clarify, maybe, some contradictions in his testimony.

Special Agent Kelly Garbo said that Shumate was fairly calm, but halfway through the interview he became emotional and then he started crying. And she says I told him that other members of the squad had been honest and truthful, and they told us the real story of what happened that night, that there was a kidnap and there was a murder.

And then Shumate was shown a map of the location that another one of the defendants had drawn during his interrogation, and one of the investigators said that Shumate grabbed that map at one point and wrote something on the back of it, angrily. And that something, investigators implied, might be used against him.

MONTAGNE: So we're not hearing evidence, precisely, about what might be Shumate's role. But are his attorneys saying anything in his defense at this point?

MCCHESNEY: Well, they have been saying things. They say that these confessions - or statements, as they call them - were coerced, and that really won't provide evidence against these men. They're also saying that the Iraqi witnesses are lying or have falsified what happened there. And they also say there's no physical evidence to support these charges.

Prosecutors yesterday, though, did come back and say that an autopsy report and ballistics will corroborate the charges.

MONTAGNE: And, you know, just finally, John, why isn't Shumate facing the death penalty, as we said at the top?

MCCHESNEY: Well, we really don't know. It's just that the prosecution said that they would not press for the death penalty in this case. They have done that in one other hearing prior to this. So it may signal that they're going to do that for all the men who are charged in this case. We just don't know.

MONTAGNE: John, thanks.

MCCHESNEY: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's John McChesney reporting from Oceanside, California.

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