Pfc. England to Plead Guilty to Abu Ghraib Abuses
Monday, May 2, 2005; 7:36 AM
FORT HOOD, Texas -- Defense attorneys are hoping a plea deal by Pfc. Lynndie England will be accepted by an Army judge as the reservist whose image became synonymous with the Abu Ghraib prison scandal heads to court.
England, who appeared in some of the most graphic photographs depicting physical mistreatment and sexual humiliation of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison, was expected to plead guilty Monday.
England's civilian lawyer, Rick Hernandez, said last week that the 22-year-old Army reservist will plead guilty to two counts of conspiracy, four counts of maltreating prisoners and one count of dereliction of duty. In exchange, he said, prosecutors will drop charges of committing an indecent act and failure to obey a lawful order.
The plea agreement, which would come the day before England was scheduled to go to trial, lowers her maximum possible sentence from 16 1/2 years in prison to 11 years.
If the plea is accepted by the Army judge, Col. James Pohl, a panel of soldiers will determine her punishment after a sentencing hearing expected to last several days.
Lori Hernandez, assisting her husband on England's defense team, said Sunday that no agreement has been reached that would limit England's possible sentence. The New York Times, citing unnamed prosecution sources, said in Saturday editions that the plea deal included a 30-month cap.
Rick Hernandez said his sentencing witnesses include Pvt. Charles Graner Jr., a former Abu Ghraib guard and the reputed ringleader of the abuses. Graner, said to be England's ex-boyfriend and father of her infant son, was convicted in January on a range of abuse charges and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Rick Hernandez said it has not been decided whether England will take the stand. He said the defense will present evidence that England has severe learning disabilities and mental health problems.
England, from Fort Ashby, W.Va., was one of seven members of the Maryland-based 372nd Military Police Company charged with humiliating and assaulting prisoners at the prison near Baghdad. She became a focal point of the scandal after photos of her surfaced, including one that showed her smiling and posing with nude prisoners stacked in a pyramid.
In one notorious photo from the prison, England is shown holding a hooded, naked Iraqi prisoner on a leash. In another she is smiling and pointing at a naked detainee's genitals while smoking a cigarette.
England's lawyers have argued that she and others in her unit were acting on orders from military intelligence to "soften up" prisoners for interrogations. But Army investigators testified during hearings last summer that England said the reservists took the photos while "they were joking around, having some fun."
The Abu Ghraib scandal, which went public in April 2004, damaged the image of America's military leadership at home and sparked outrage around the world. Several government investigations have been conducted, but so far only low-level soldiers have been charged, although the defendants and other critics have alleged that high-level officials condoned the abuse.
Four other members of the 372nd and two low-level military intelligence officers have entered guilty pleas, with sentences ranging from no time to 8 1/2 years. Graner is the only soldier to stand trial so far, while Spc. Sabrina Harman, a former Abu Ghraib guard, is scheduled to go to trial at Fort Hood next week.
In West Virginia, England family attorney Roy Hardy said Saturday that relatives have accepted her plea decision. "They are secure in the knowledge that she knows what she's doing," said Hardy. "They're not happy, but at the same time they've accepted it."
If England is sent to prison, her son will live with her mother and sister, Hardy said, but the family hopes she is not given the maximum 11-year sentence. "We just want to bring her back here to West Virginia," he said. "On behalf of the family, we're confident the military will look at the evidence."