Image: John J. Jodka
AP via Jodka Family
Marine Pfc. John J. Jodka III, 20, pleaded guilty in October to charges of assault and conspiracy to obstruct justice.
updated 11/15/2006 9:16:13 PM ET 2006-11-16T02:16:13

A Marine private who pleaded guilty to reduced charges in the killing of an innocent Iraqi civilian was sentenced Wednesday to 18 months in custody by a military judge who wanted to mete out a five-year punishment but had to stick with terms of a plea deal.

"You have a very fortuitous pretrial agreement," the judge, Lt. Col. David Jones, told Pfc. John J. Jodka III.

The judge ruled after reviewing evidence including a video, made by the squad two days after the killing, in which the 20-year-old private participated in profane jokes about killing more people and car bombers.

The judge said that if Jodka cooperates against all his co-defendants who stand trial he can receive a general discharge. The judge said he would have given Jodka a dishonorable discharge.

The time in custody appeared to include the 189 days Jodka has already served in the brig.

Jodka was part of a squad of seven Marines and a Navy corpsman accused of kidnapping a man in the town of Hamdania, west of Baghdad, taking him to a roadside hole and shooting him, then trying to cover up the killing.

The prosecution played brief segments of the video, which was shot by a Marine and showed Jodka and others atop a personnel carrier. It was not clear who was speaking at specific times.

A voice that apparently was the camera operator’s said, “J.J., say what you know,” then, “You gonna kill some more (expletive) today?”

“Yeah,” was the reply.

Jodka pleaded guilty Oct. 27 to assault and conspiracy to obstruct justice and agreed to testify. In exchange, prosecutors dropped other charges including murder.

Speaking in a firm voice, Jodka said he was sorry for the pain and suffering he caused the family of 52-year-old Hashim Ibrahim Awad, and for the troubles he caused his own family.

“Thirdly, I apologize to my Marine Corps whose highest ideals I have failed to uphold,” Jodka said.

A prison term established in the pretrial agreement had not yet been revealed. In this process the judge does not know the terms of the deal. If sentenced by the judge to a longer term, Jodka would not be liable to serve the extra time.

Prosecutors say the troops intended to kidnap a known insurgent, but when they couldn’t find him they seized Awad instead.

‘Absolutely not’
Under questioning by his civilian attorney, Jane Siegel, Jodka said he thought the man who was shot on the night of April 26 was a known insurgent. Asked if he would have fired had he known the man was not, Jodka replied: “Absolutely not.”

Jodka described how, as the youngest and lowest-ranking member of the squad, he looked up to fire team leader Cpl. Trent Thomas and squad leader Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III for guidance and advice while in combat.

He said he had received little counterinsurgency training and said his squad’s Arabic language interpreter had quit, leaving them unable to communicate with Iraqis.

The Navy corpsman and two other Marines also have made plea agreements. The corpsman, Petty Officer 3rd Class Melson J. Bacos, was sentenced to 10 years in prison but will only serve one because of his plea agreement.

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