U.S. Marine convicted in Iraqi grandfather's death

SAN DIEGO Wed Jul 18, 2007 8:12pm EDT

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SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - A military jury found a U.S. Marine guilty on Wednesday for conspiring to kidnap and kill an Iraqi grandfather nabbed from his home and shot dead in the middle of the night last year.

Cpl. Trent Thomas, a Purple Heart recipient who was serving his third tour of duty in Iraq, was convicted of kidnapping and conspiracy to murder, commit larceny, break into a house and make false official statements. A nine-member jury of officers and enlisted Marines acquitted Thomas of other charges that he committed murder, larceny and other acts.

Thomas is one of eight members of an infantry battalion charged in the April 26, 2006, death of Hashim Ibrahim Awad, a disabled Iraqi policeman and grandfather in Hamdania.

The incident was one of a series in which U.S. forces abused or killed Iraqi civilians under questionable circumstances, damaging the image of U.S. troops abroad.

Separately, another military court at Camp Pendleton has been hearing evidence this week against one of seven Marines charged in the November 2005 killings of 24 civilians in Haditha.

In the Thomas trial, several Marines testified that their squad leader, Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III, came up with a plan to kidnap and kill a suspected insurgent named Saleh Gowad, whom they blamed for some of the attacks against U.S. Marines.

When they did not find him at his house, several Marines grabbed a man, believed to be Awad, from a nearby house.

Several Marines testified that Thomas and his squad leader fired their weapons several times at close range. They placed a stolen shovel and AK-47 by the body to make it look like the man was caught digging a hole for a roadside bomb.

Defense attorneys for Thomas, the 25-year-old father of two young children, said the Marine was just following orders and that the dead Iraqi was a legitimate target.

Earlier this year, Thomas pleaded guilty to murder, conspiracy, larceny housebreaking, kidnapping and lying to investigators, but withdrew his plea a few weeks later.

Four Marines and a Navy sailor with Thomas' unit have already pleaded guilty and received jail sentences ranging from one year to eight years. Trials for the two remaining Marines are scheduled for later this month.

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