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3rd U.S. G.I. Pleads In Iraq Murder Case

A Marine pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and conspiracy to obstruct justice before testifying that his squad executed a civilian he thought was an insurgent.

Lance Cpl. Tyler A. Jackson, 23, was the third serviceman to plead guilty to reduced charges in return for his testimony in the case in which seven Camp Pendleton-based Marines and a Navy corpsman were charged with killing 52-year-old Hashim Ibrahim Awad in the Iraqi village of Hamdania.

Jackson, who entered the pleas through his attorney, Thomas Watt, at a military court hearing, said the shooting occurred after the squad hatched a plan to kidnap an insurgent who was suspected of being responsible for several explosions, including one that killed four Marines.

Three members of Jackson's unit went into Hamdania on April 26 and returned with a prisoner who was then shot by the side of a road on the orders of squad leader Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins, Jackson said.

"Sgt. Hutchins ordered us to get on line," Jackson testified. "Everyone fired rounds, including myself, but I fired my rounds above him. I knew he was going to be shot, but I didn't want to be the one to do it."

Jackson said that to his knowledge the man was a known insurgent. He learned later that it was Awad, he said. He said another serviceman told him that if anyone asked about the incident, he should "stick to the story," Jackson testified.

Previously, two other servicemen testified that a shovel and AK-47 were placed near the body to make it appear Awad was an insurgent planting a roadside bomb.

"If we were ever asked about the incident or how it came about, we would tell the story of the man who was digging a hole on the side of the road," Jackson said.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Melson J. Bacos, a Navy corpsman on patrol with the Marines, was the first to make a deal in the case. He pleaded guilty to kidnapping and conspiracy and was sentenced to a year in prison. Last month, Pfc. John Jodka III pleaded guilty to assault and conspiracy to obstruct justice in the incident.

In their testimony, both Jodka and Bacos also singled out Hutchins as hatching the plan to kidnap the insurgent. Hutchins' attorney, Rich Brannon, has said he did not believe Hutchins did anything wrong.

Jackson had pleaded not guilty to murder, kidnapping, larceny, housebreaking and another charge of conspiracy earlier in the hearing. Those charges were later dropped as part of his plea deal after he gave his account of the attack.

Jackson, who has been in military prison since May, faces a maximum of 15 years in prison when he is sentenced on Nov. 16. The term will likely be reduced by the plea agreement.

His father declined to comment. A Web site set up by Jackson's family to raise money for his defense said Jackson was innocent.

"To send these men to war to do a job and then imprison them for doing it is absurd," the Web site states.