The U.S. military's highest appellate court has agreed to hear the appeal of 1st Lt. Michael Behenna, an Edmond soldier convicted of killing an Iraqi man in 2008.
Behenna is serving a 15-year sentence at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. He said he killed the man in self defense, but in July 2011, the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals upheld his conviction and sentence.
Friday morning, Behenna's family learned the U.S. Court of Appeals for Armed Forces agreed to hear the soldier's appeal. Behenna's mother, U.S. Attorney Vicki Behenna, said she received the call just before 9 a.m. and felt an overwhelming sense of relief.
"Thank God. Thank God. You just cannot know how difficult this fight is," said Vicki. "They could have easily, summarily, denied our request. They could have said we don't see anything wrong with the army court's opinion. But they did not and granted us this review."
The U.S. Court of Appeals for Armed Forces only accepts a fraction of appeals. The news is a ray of hope for Behenna's family, especially coming on the heels of some bad news. On Thursday, the Army Clemency and Parole Board denied Behenna's request for clemency.
"It's very, very difficult. It feels like a roller coaster," said Vicki. "For every little piece of good news you think you get, you get a bunch of really bad, down news."
"There are many times when you think you just have to give up. Just forget it. Maybe in five or six years, he'll be home. With something like this it just gives you renewed hope."
Vicki said her son hadn't heard about the appeal yet. She and her husband planned to drive to Fort Leavenworth on Saturday to personally give him the good news. Vicki said despite the turmoil and uncertainty, her son is handling the situation well.
"He's an incredible young man. I was telling the clemency board that I am very, very proud of him; just the way that he has responded to all of this. He's reading and learning about himself, and he's holding up, under the circumstances, I think extremely well."
The appellate court could hear the case sometime in the spring. Behenna's defense will argue the prosecution withheld evidence that might have affected the case, and that the judge did not properly instruct the jury on Behenna's self-defense claim.