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1st lt. has murder sentence cut to 15 years

Jan. 21, 2010 - 06:56PM   |   Last Updated: Jan. 21, 2010 - 06:56PM  |  
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FORT CAMBELL, Ky. A Fort Campbell soldier convicted of murdering an Iraqi detainee has had his sentence reduced a second time and now faces 15 years in prison, the soldier's family and his attorney said Thursday.

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FORT CAMBELL, Ky. A Fort Campbell soldier convicted of murdering an Iraqi detainee has had his sentence reduced a second time and now faces 15 years in prison, the soldier's family and his attorney said Thursday.

First Lt. Michael Behenna of Edmond, Okla., was sentenced by a military jury to 25 years in prison for shooting and killing an Iraqi detainee during a May 2008 interrogation. But the commanding general at Fort Campbell later reduced the sentence to 20 years.

The Army Clemency and Parole Board cut five another years off, according to his mother, Vicki Behenna, who said she was contacted by the panel chairman. She wasn't told why the sentenced was reduced, but she and other relatives testified before the board Jan. 7 and said the punishment was excessive compared to other soldiers convicted of combat-related killings that were not premeditated.

Calls to the Department of Defense rang unanswered Thursday.

Attorney Jack Zimmermann said reduction was not related to an appeal of the conviction.

Prosecutors have said Behenna took detainee Ali Monsour Mohammed to a secluded railroad culvert near Beiji, Iraq, and shot him execution-style after interrogating the man at gunpoint.

Behenna claimed he was trying to defend himself after Mohammed stood up and tried to reach for his gun. The officer said he defied orders to release Mohammed because he wanted another chance to question the detainee he believed was involved in a roadside bombing in April 2008 that killed two men under Behenna's command.

Vicki Behenna said she was grateful her son's sentence had been reduced, but said the family's ultimate goal was a new trial and his release.

"We're still going to fight that fight," she said. "We think there are good issues on his appeal that will ultimately result in the reversal of his conviction and lead to a new trial."

Behenna's attorneys have argued that an expert witness retained by prosecutors who never testified had information that could have cleared him. In June, Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson and University of Oklahoma President David Boren, a former U.S. senator, were among those who signed a letter to the Army Secretary requesting a new trial.

Vicki Behenna said her son remains in good spirits while imprisoned at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

"He is hopeful and tends to look forward," she said. "That keeps us fighting and pushing his cause."

Associated Press writers Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City and Brett Barrouquere in Louisville contributed to this report.

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