Preliminary hearing held for Oklahoma soldiers

Monday, September 22nd 2008, 8:43 pm
By: News 9

By Amy Lester, NEWS 9

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The military is weighing the evidence against two Oklahomans accused of murder in Iraq. First Lt. Michael Behenna and Staff Sgt. Hal Warner are charged with killing an Iraqi detainee.

Behenna's equivalent to a preliminary hearing started Saturday and key testimony came from one witness.

"The prosecution would call witnesses and the defense could call witnesses and the judge makes his determination based on all evidence," defense attorney Bill Campbell said.

Campbell, a lawyer who has handled military cases, said this is a lot like a preliminary hearing.

"This is a hearing where that the military judge makes a determination whether or not there's sufficient evidence for the case to go forward," Campbell said.

Some of the testimony came from an Iraqi translator known as Harry. Harry said Behenna told an Iraqi detainee "Today, I am going to kill you."

Then Harry said he saw Behenna shoot that detainee in a tunnel.

Behenna's attorney insists he's innocent and they will fight charges.

Staff Sgt. Hal Warner is accused of using a grenade to set that detainee on fire after he was shot. Warner's family doesn't believe it.

"You know, he's a soldier, he enjoys being a squad leader for the infantry, but this is not him, he would never do anything like this," said Ryan Warner, Hal Warner's brother.

The court also saw a video taken a day later by an Iraqi police officer. It shows the detainee's naked body lying in what looks like a blood stain in a tunnel. Parts of his body are charred black.

If this all adds up to enough evidence, the soldiers will be court-martialed and face a jury of senior officers.

"The military members probably have a better experience in terms of what the individual has gone through then what a civilian juror of understanding circumstances of a civilian defendant," Campbell said.

Both soldiers face several charges including premeditated murder and assault.

"No one brings witnesses to a pre-planned murder. The facts just don't line up," Behenna's lawyer Jack Zimmermann said.

Behenna's attorney objects to all charges except assault and has asked for the charges to be lowered to un-premeditated murder, homicide or negligent homicide.

The investigating officer said it will take several weeks to decide if there is enough evidence for a court martial.