Cpl. Marshall Magincalda

The mother of a Marine corporal charged with the murder of an Iraqi along with seven other servicemen says Navy prosecutors are trying to frame the “Pendleton 8” – denying them access to evidence, attempting to coerce confessions and treating them more harshly than terrorist prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.

Leanne Magincalda, mother of Cpl. Marshall Magincalda, blamed leaks by Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., for creating a climate of witch-hunt hysteria surrounding the case, leading to isolation and harassment of the incarcerated soldiers.

She told WND the parents of the eight have seen most of the evidence against their sons, and it is weak.

“There is absolutely nothing,” she said. “No DNA, no witnesses, no NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigative Service) interrogators to question, the autopsy is at best non-supportive of their stance, no physical evidence whatsoever. The statements that they cling so dearly to were coerced over threat of death.”

She charged interrogators with subjecting the men to 10-18 hours of non-stop questioning in efforts to break them.

In the latest development in the case, military prosecutors last week submitted maps, letters from Iraq and incriminating statements to military courts in arguing specifically that two of the Marines should be tried in the killing of Hashim Ibrahim Awad, 52, an Iraqi civilian.

“At the end of the day, all we have are unreliable, uncorroborated statements and no physical evidence,” said Joseph Casas, the civilian lawyer for Pfc. John J. Jodka, 20. “What the government says happened, didn’t happen.”

Seven Marines and a Navy corpsman are being held in the Camp Pendleton brig on charges they bound Awad’s hands and feet, then shot him on April 26 in Hamdania. Prosecutors say they planted a shovel and AK-47 rifle near his body to make him look like an insurgent.

Last Wednesday’s proceedings were the first of eight Article 32 hearings – the military equivalent of a grand jury proceeding – that will be held as prosecutors argue each of the defendants should be court-martialed. They are charged with murder, kidnapping, assault, larceny, conspiracy, housebreaking and making a false official statement.

All eight defendants had faced the death penalty, but prosecutors decided last week not to seek capital punishment for Jodka. They called the death penalty “inappropriate” for him but did not say why.

In addition to Jodka and Maginacalda, the others charged are Cpl. Trent D. Thomas, Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III, Hospitalman 3rd Class Melson Bacos, Lance Cpl. Tyler A. Jackson, Lance Cpl. Robert Pennington and Lance Cpl. Jerry E. Shumate Jr.

Mrs. Magincalda says she knows her son had to continually request legal counsel during interrogations. She says he did not get any counsel until he had been back in the U.S. for eight days. She says the defense has been prohibited from investigating the crime scene and is reliant on what the prosecution found there.

She is also pessimistic about efforts to get her son and the others released from the brig pending trial – despite offers by counsel for their clients to use monitoring devices and submit to supervision.

“Nothing is going to get these men out,” she said. “Absolutely nothing. They will be in the brig for one reason and one reason only until trial – mind games. They continually play all kinds of mind games and not only on the prisoners. The visitors continually and repeatedly get ‘jacked around,’ even 87-year-old grandmas. And, mind you, not one piece of mail with our home address has been delivered to our son – nothing. What has been returned says ‘addressee unknown.'”

She says her son and the rest of his colleagues are eager for their day in court. She says the military is stalling the proceedings – still hoping to break someone.

“You couldn’t get one single commander, all the way up to the commander in chief, to release these men,” she says. “Mark my words, they will drag out the court martial as long as they possibly can.”

Conditions in the brig remain poor, she told WND.

“There are no inmate phones that work properly,” she said. “Services like toilet and shower are not working or working poorly.”

The prisoners’ families repeatedly have complained about the heat in the brig – and Mrs. Magincalda says that situation has not improved.

“They are extending the heat issues to those who visit,” she says. “During the hottest two weekends of the summer, they were actually piping hot air into the waiting room for visitors – then purposely dragging their feet on letting us in.”

She accuses the military of using death threats against the eight to threats against their fianc?s and wives and parents to get them to crack.

“These aren’t idle threats, either,” she says.

Mrs. Magincalda isn’t sure where the pressure is coming from, but she has a guess. She believes the increasing clout of Middle Easterners in the world and within the U.S. is, in part, creating the climate for what she sees as the persecution of her son and his comrades.

“To be quite honest, we have got to be the laughing stock of the world,” she said. “Are these men being offered up as some sort of hideous sacrifice to some unknown god? This is a tale of horror. Your own government, your own military, turning its back on their heroes, our heroes, our sons.”

[Editor’s note: If you would like to help the Magincaldas with the defense of their son, you can learn more at the family’s website.]

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