Video: England pleads guilty

By Correspondent
NBC News
updated 5/2/2005 3:04:52 PM ET 2005-05-02T19:04:52

Pfc. Lynndie England, who appeared in some of the most notorious and graphic photos from the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, pleaded guilty to charges related to her role in the events on Monday.

The 22-year-old Army reservist entered pleas to two counts of conspiracy to maltreat prisoners, four counts of maltreating prisoners and one count of committing an indecent act in a military court in Fort Hood, Texas. In exchange, prosecutors dropped two other counts against her, for committing an indecent act and for dereliction of duty.

NBC News’ Jim Cummins reports on what will happen next for England as the military judicial process moves forward.

What’s next for Pfc. Lynndie England now that she has plead guilty to seven of nine charges against her on Monday?

The next step in the process is that the presiding judge, a colonel in the Army, questions Pfc. England extensively about the charges that she plead guilty to, to make sure that she understands the charges and that she truly believes that she is guilty.

Already there appears to be a small hitch in this. When she was asked about the infamous photo where she had an Iraqi detainee on a leash — the photo that was flashed around the world — she said the leash was given to her to humiliate the other Iraqi inmates into coming out of their cells willingly, rather than have a soldier use force.

She more or less told the judge that the leash was handed to her by then corporal [Charles] Graner; he is the man who was convicted of prisoner abuse in January and sentenced to ten years.

At that point the judge said, 'you only plead guilty to something if you are in fact, guilty.' The judge asked her if she believed it was an appropriate use of force. At that point, her lawyer interjected that she wasn’t doing it for herself, but for Charles Graner.

Graner was an ex–boyfriend of hers, who fathered her child in October of last year. The court then took a recess. So, she has not finished answering that question.

That process, of the judge questioning England in great detail about the things she pleaded guilty to will continue for the rest of the day. That includes seven out of nine counts.

Then the judge will decide whether or not he will accept the plea agreement. If he does, then the sentencing phase begins Tuesday. They will pick a panel of soldiers. At least a third of them have to be enlisted personnel, because that’s what Pfc. England is.

Then they will begin presenting evidence in the sentencing phase of the trial.   

Has there been anything further to substantiate the New York Times report on Saturday that there will be a 30-month cap on her sentence?
The issue of a cap came up over the weekend. There were reports that England’s lawyer had leaked information a plea bargain. One of the reports, in the New York Times, was that there would be a 30-month cap on her sentence. She does face up to 11 years in prison on the charges that she did plead guilty to.

So it is not clear whether or not a cap has indeed been negotiated in this plea bargain – at least a cap below what the military code of conduct proscribes for these kinds of crimes.

Slideshow: Abu Ghraib images

Witness will be called in for the sentencing face.  Will Charles Graner Jr. be among them?
That’s the big question here. A lot of the people and reporters assembled here are asking that question. How can he help her case? So, everybody is just guessing at that. England’s lawyers have indicated that Graner is indeed going to be called to testify on her behalf. So, we’ll just have to wait and see.

What will happen to her infant son while she serves what will likely be a prison sentence?
There has been no explanation of any of that. I’m not sure how they handle mothers who are sentenced in the military.   

What has the reaction been to the England hearings at Ft. Hood? 
Life goes on as normal around here at Ft. Hood. Nothing has changed. People are going about their business.

I was not here for the Graner trial in January. But, I have asked people if the give-and-take in court between the presiding judge and the defense lawyers is similar to what happened in that case. I’ve been told that it was more or less the same during the Graner trial. Just maybe a little more rambunctious than you see in civilian courts in this country.

Since England is from a West Virginia Army MP Reserve Unit, she is not from the Fort Hood community. Her trial was just sent here for security reasons, so there is little community reaction to her trial.

Jim Cummins is the NBC News Dallas Bureau Chief and lead correspondent.

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