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Jury considers Marine’s fate in Fallujah killing

A prosecutor asked a jury Wednesday to hold a Marine reservist responsible for killing an Iraqi soldier at a guard post in Fallujah, saying he lied when he claimed the slaying was self defense.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A prosecutor asked a jury Wednesday to hold a Marine reservist responsible for killing an Iraqi soldier at a guard post, saying he lied when he claimed the slaying was self defense.

Lance Cpl. Delano Holmes, 22, of Indianapolis, is accused of stabbing Pvt. Munther Jasem Muhammed Hassin on Dec. 31, 2006, while the two stood guard together in Fallujah.

”There might be some people who think Iraqi lives are worth less. They are not,” a prosecutor, Capt. Brett Miner said during closing arguments.

The killing occurred in pre-dawn darkness after Hassin allegedly opened his cell phone and then lit a cigarette at the post, which had been a recent target of insurgents. The men were not supposed to display any illuminated objects because of the threat of sniper fire.

“There is no question that the evidence shows this was an extremely dangerous place,” Holmes’ attorney, Steve Cook, told jurors before they began deliberations Wednesday.

Holmes maintains he tried repeatedly to get Hassin to extinguish the cigarette, knocked it from the soldier’s hand and the two got into a fight, falling to the ground. During the struggle, Holmes felt Hassin reaching for his loaded AK-47, so he stabbed him with a bayonet that doubles as a utility knife that was attached to his jacket, Cook has said.

But Miner told jurors that Holmes killed the soldier and then set up the scene, firing the soldier's AK-47. He told jurors Holmes “mauled” Hassin with 17 stab wounds, 26 slashes and a chop to the face that nearly severed his nose from his face, but that Holmes suffered no injuries.

‘Not lawful killing’
“Not a scratch. Not a blemish. ... There is not a mark on him. There is no self-defense,” Miner told jurors. “There can be lawful killings during a time of war. This is not a lawful killing.”

Miner, who did not offer a motive for the alleged murder, asked jurors to recall earlier testimony that showed Hassin was a “peaceful man,” a picture painted by prosecution witnesses, including Marines, who had worked the post with him.

But Cook told jurors that Holmes had never worked the guard post before and had never worked with Hassin before.

“Everything he had learned and experienced up to this point told him to be suspicious of (the soldier),” Cook said.

He cited evidence presented during the court-martial that showed cell phones and cigarettes are often used by Iraqis to alert or contact insurgents. Jurors also heard about a rocket-propelled grenade being fired at the post and saw pictures of the post's bullet-riddled, bulletproof windows.

Cook said there were multiple problems with the prosecution's evidence, including the body of the soldier being moved by Iraqis and later returned, and the failure to collect the soldier's phone records.

“Was he sending a message to somebody? Was this evidence analyzed? Collected? No,” Cook told jurors.

Miner opened his rebuttal argument by stabbing a dummy with the bayonet used to kill Hassin.

“Let's remember what this case is about,” he told jurors. “He murdered him. He thought about it. Then he picked up the AK-47 and fired it.”

Holmes, who is being held in the brig at Camp Pendleton, enlisted in the Marine reserves in May 2004 and was on his first deployment in Iraq, Cook said. He is from the 1st Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, based out of Lansing, Mich.