Hamdania Assault Case Reaches Court Today

By Mark Walker, North County Times, January 10, 2007

NORTH COUNTY - A court hearing for a Marine officer charged with assaulting three Iraqi civilians last year gets under way at Camp Pendleton this morning.

The Article 32 hearing for 2nd Lt. Nathan Phan will be presided over by Lt. Col. William Pigott, who will issue a recommendation following its conclusion as to whether he believes the case should move forward to court-martial.

Phan, 26, is charged with beating three Iraqis in the village of Hamdania on April 10 and later lying to investigators about what happened.

Phan's attorney David Sheldon maintains his client is innocent and that the charges arose out of what he said was misconduct by agents of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

The Marine Corps has said its law enforcement agency learned of the alleged beatings during its investigation into the April 26 kidnapping and shooting death of a retired Iraqi police officer in Hamdania.

Seven Marines and a Navy corpsman from a Kilo Company platoon attached to the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment were charged in June with murder and related offenses in that case. Three of the Marines and the corpsman reached plea agreements with military prosecutors in the fall and are serving jail terms ranging from 12 to 21 months.

Sources close to the homicide case have said two of the four remaining defendants, all of whom have entered not guilty pleas, are attempting to reach agreements that would see them plead guilty to lesser offenses.

Rich Brannon is a Georgia attorney representing the squad leader and highest-ranking man charged in the homicide case, 22-year-old Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III. Brannon said in a telephone interview Wednesday that there are no such discussions regarding his client.

"We haven't been offered anything," he said.

The four men who have pleaded guilty said during court appearances that Hutchins was the one who directed the plot that led to the kidnapping and killing of Hashim Ibrahim Awad.

Joseph Low, attorney for defendant Cpl. Marshall Magincalda, 23, said earlier this week that he was not engaged in discussions that could lead to a plea agreement.

David Brahms, a Carlsbad attorney and former Marine Corps general who represents Lance Cpl. Robert Pennington, 22, declined to comment Wednesday when asked about that possibility for his client.

The attorney for the remaining defendant, Cpl. Trent Thomas, 25, was away from his office and could not be reached.

Marine Corps officials will not comment on any possible plea discussions.

The Hamdania case was the first of two homicide cases lodged against Camp Pendleton troops last year, incidents which have reverberated throughout the military and prompted the commandant of the Marine Corps to visit Iraq and U.S. bases to address the troops.

In December, four Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment were charged with murder and negligent homicide in the killing of 24 Iraqi civilians, including six children and five women, in the city of Haditha in November 2005.

Prosecutors also charged four officers with dereliction of duty and related offenses for allegedly mishandling the investigation of what happened in Haditha, an incident triggered when a bomb embedded in a road detonated as a Humvee passed over it, killing a lance corporal.

The enlisted men in the Hamdania and Haditha cases face the possibility of life in prison if convicted of murder.