AP Lands Interview with Marine Convicted in Iraq Killing

By: Cpl. Marshall Magincalda and seven of his comrades were angry. For weeks, the squad had endured insurgent attacks, but lacked evidence against the man they suspected was responsible.

Magincalda told The Associated Press in his first in-depth interview since being released from the Camp Pendleton brig last week that the Marines warned the man that if any more bombs went off, they would be paying him a visit.

When a second blast occurred a week later, in April last year, they hatched a plan for an unorthodox revenge. In the end, however, a different man ended up dead.

"I am upset with my actions over there for not stopping what happened, but at the same time, I don't think you guys understand what is going on over there," he said. "This is a war, and the other side, they don't have rules. When we do finally get the intelligence and we do have enough to get someone, it's very rare to actually catch them in the act."

The idea was simple, Magincalda said: They would split into two groups, with four men going to the man's home. The others would hide in a stand of palm trees until the first team returned with the target. Then, they would shoot him and doctor the scene to make it look like he was planting a bomb.

But things didn't go so smoothly.

Barking dogs at the home of the target, Saleh Gowad, threatened to reveal the squad's presence. Frustrated at not being able to get Gowad, and determined to exact some form of revenge, the Marines moved next door to the home of a man prosecutors later identified as Hashim Ibrahim Awad. Prosecutors said he was a retired police officer and father of 11.

Magincalda and another Marine walked through the unlocked front door and grabbed Awad. Magincalda helped as his squad mates dragged Awad to a ditch by the side of a dusty road, then watched as they fatally shot him. The corporal had helped tie the man up and place expended shell casings by his corpse to make it look like he'd been shooting at the Marines.

The squad was later pulled from the battlefield to face murder, kidnapping and other charges.

Magincalda, 24, was acquitted of murder on Aug. 1, but convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, larceny and housebreaking. He was freed from the Camp Pendleton brig after being sentenced to time already served, and will be reduced in rank to private.

Magincalda said he hopes to re-enlist in the Marines after his contract expires in five months.

Speaking in his service uniform with his attorney, Joseph Low, by his side, Magincalda said he knew the plan was wrong, but his squad mates gave him "an out" by letting him participate in the kidnap but not fire his weapon.

"I didn't want to have anything to do in killing the insurgent or whoever it might have been," Magincalda said. "But at the same time, I was willing to support my guys because I wasn't going to let them go off into the night on their own."

Magincalda said he now regrets he was not more persuasive. The killing took place in the early morning of April 26, 2006, in a tiny hamlet of the rural town of Hamdania, in Iraq's Al Anbar province.

Magincalda, of Manteca, joined the Marine Corps in 2002 after having what he described as a vision to serve his country in Iraq. He served two combat tours before the ill-fated deployment to Hamdania, taking part in the initial invasion and the battle to regain control of Fallujah in 2004.

At his trial, Magincalda's psychiatrist testified the Marine had post-traumatic stress disorder from his combat experiences. Magincalda said he has other psychological problems, including depression and nightmares.

The criminal case against the squad ended last week when the group's leader, Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III, was sentenced to 15 years in prison after being convicted of unpremeditated murder.

Of the seven Marines and one Navy corpsman who were originally charged, five cut deals with prosecutors in which they pleaded guilty to lesser charges and were required to testify against Magincalda, Hutchins and another corporal in the case, Trent Thomas. In return, they were sentenced from one to eight years in prison.

Prosecutors were not permitted to speak to reporters while the case was going on. After the trial, the AP was told the lead prosecutor was on vacation and unavailable for comment.

"The biggest frustration was ... how this all happened, and why eight great Americans who had sacrificed so much for this country would do something that on first glance seemed so horrible, was not going to find its way into evidence," Low said.

Low said prosecutors never proved that the victim was an innocent civilian. Low, who traveled to Hamdania, said he had uncovered evidence suggesting Awad likely was an insurgent, including that he was identified on a Marine suspects list as being a marksman nicknamed the "karma sniper."

Magincalda said he would never know for sure who died that night in April. The Marine said he would always feel ashamed of having helped kill a man outside the rules of engagement.

"We didn't do it the way we should have," he said.


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