By Debbie Stevenson
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD The judge on Wednesday threw out Pfc. Lynndie Englands guilty plea after testimony cast doubt that the reservist knew her actions at the Armys Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were wrong.
Col. James Pohl entered a plea of not guilty to one of seven counts against England that accused her of conspiring in 2003 with Pvt. Charles Graner to maltreat detainees at the prison near Baghdad.
Your counsel keeps putting on witnesses that offer a defense, Pohl told England. If you dont believe youre guilty, if you honestly believe you were doing what Graner told you to do, then you cant plead guilty.
Pohls action erased a plea deal struck with prosecutors that had reduced Englands possible maximum sentence from 16 years to 11 years. Two counts that were dropped under the deal will remain off the table because they were dismissed before the plea was entered, said Capt. Cullen Sheppard, a military legal expert.
Pohls actions Wednesday afternoon also erased a sentencing cap agreed to under the deal that is believed to have been substantially lower than the maximum sentence allowed under the years. Sheppard said the sentencing cap would not be disclosed because it could influence a future panels recommendation if the case is returned to court.
England appeared close to tears as she and her defense team left the III Corps courtroom without comment. Her mother and baby did not return to the court after the lunch break.
Englands fate now rests with III Corps commander, Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, who became the convening authority after the case was transferred last year from Fort Bragg, N.C.
Sheppard said Metz can choose to dismiss the charges, apply nonjudicial punishment under Article 15 of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, or reconvene a general court-martial. If Metz orders a general court-martial, a new Article 32 investigation, the militarys equivalent of a grand jury, will be required. Under her plea arrangement, England had conditionally waived that right after the charges were refiled at Fort Hood.
Graner, who is believed to be the father of Englands son, is serving a 10-year prison sentence for his role in the abuse after being found guilty in January by a Fort Hood panel. He is one of seven junior-ranking members of 372nd Military Police Company and two military intelligence soldiers to face charges in the prison scandal, which erupted in April 2004 after photographs of the abuse were aired by a television network.
Graner was the first witness called for the second day of the sentencing proceedings. He told the court that military intelligence personnel had wanted to free up the cell of a prisoner who was later pictured curled up naked in front of his cell while being held on a leash by England.
Graner, 36, said he asked for help from England and Spc. Megan Ambuhl, another military policewoman who has since been charged and released from the Army for her role in the scandal. Graner said made the request in his capacity as the shifts ranking soldier, maintaining his use of the leash was a legitimate use of force.
Graner said he had put the leash around the detainees shoulders. It later slipped up around his neck.
The camera was a training aid, Graner said.
Since we had a planned use of force, I documented it, he added.
On Monday, England testified that the pictures of the leash and others involving the stacking of naked detainees in a human pyramid and in other sexually explicit poses were done for the amusement of the military guards.
Both sides have indicated to me there is no way to resolve this inconsistency, Pohl said as he declared a mistrial.
Graner was not the first defense witness to cross the line.
On Tuesday, Pohl temporarily halted the defense case after Englands former school psychologist appeared to suggest her learning disabilities had contributed to a compliant nature.
In the classroom, she was very compliant. She did not do wrong, said Thomas Denne, a certified school psychologist from Englands school district in West Virginia. With persons in authority, she complied.
You are creating an inference that she didnt know right from wrong, warned Pohl after he dismissed the jurors.
On Monday, Pohl appeared skeptical that England believed in 2003 that her actions at Abu Ghraib prison were wrong.
I assumed it was OK because he (Graner) was an MP (military policeman), the 22-year-old clerk told him about the leash photograph. He had the background as a corrections officer. With him being older than me, I thought he knew what he was doing.
After a recess requested by the defense, England insisted she was wrong to have participated in the events of Nov. 7 and 8.
This needs to be your words and your recollection, not your lawyers, Pohl told her.
Contact Debbie Stevenson at email@example.com