Marine gets sentence of time served — (The San Diego Union-Tribune)

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The San Diego Union-Tribune

by Rick Rogers, STAFF WRITER

December 15, 2007

CAMP PENDLETON – A military jury sentenced Lance Cpl. Delano Holmes yesterday to time already served for stabbing an Iraqi soldier to death last year.

Holmes, a Marine reservist based at Camp Pendleton, was initially charged with murder and could have gone to prison for life. His prospective sentence was reduced to eight years in the brig Thursday after the jury found him guilty of the less serious crimes of negligent homicide and lying to investigators about the killing.

The punishment announced yesterday means that Holmes will be freed after having served 294 days behind bars. In addition, the jurors reduced his rank to private and gave him a bad-conduct discharge.

“Wow,” Maj. Christopher Shaw, a prosecutor, said under his breath when the sentence was read in a courtroom at Camp Pendleton. He had asked for Holmes to serve a five-to seven-year prison sentence.

Holmes stabbed and cut Pvt. Munther Jasem Muhammed Hassin more than 40 times during a predawn fight last New Year’s Eve in an observation post in Fallujah. The confrontation began when the Iraqi soldier illuminated the post with a cell phone and then a cigarette.

Holmes apparently feared that insurgents would attack the post. During his court-martial, various witnesses testified that snipers were targeting the site.

Prosecutors contended that Holmes became enraged during the fight and murdered Hassin with his bayonet. They also accused him of trying to stage the crime scene by moving the body and firing the soldier’s AK-47 rifle, all to make it seem that he had to kill Hassin in self-defense.

A major piece of evidence in the prosecution’s case was a videotaped statement that Holmes gave to naval investigators Jan. 22. Holmes allegedly said, “I picked up (Hassin’s) AK and fired it, as to give myself a way out . . . for getting into it with this Iraqi soldier.”

Defense attorneys said Holmes was indeed locked in a life-and-death struggle with Hassin. They argued that he began stabbing only after the soldier reached for his rifle.

Cook accused investigators of coercing Holmes into giving a fabricated confession. The defense attorney also said they unfairly ruled out evidence that another Iraqi soldier had changed crucial elements of the death scene.

Holmes enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2004.

In the months before he killed Hassin, military doctors were treating Holmes with drugs for anxiety and insomnia. The medications included Ambien, a sleep agent; Trazodone, an antidepressant; and Valium, which is often used to treat anxiety disorders.

Rick Rogers: (760) 476-8212; rick.rogers@uniontrib.com