By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 6, 2005
Pfc. Lynndie R. England's civilian lawyer has stepped down from her defense team after representing her against prison abuse charges for a year, citing the financial burden of working on the high-profile case for free.
Rick Hernandez, of Denver, said yesterday that England will continue to be represented by her Fort Jackson, S.C.-based military lawyer, Capt. Jonathan Crisp. Hernandez said the defense team is continuing discussions about a plea agreement with military prosecutors that would spare England significant jail time for offenses alleged to have occurred at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison in late 2003.
Charges against England were abruptly dismissed Wednesday after a judge at Fort Hood, Tex., determined that England's guilty pleas were inappropriate. Testimony from Pvt. Charles A. Graner Jr. -- formerly England's lover and a higher-ranking Army soldier -- indicated that England was following orders and would not have known that her actions were wrong. Graner is serving a 10-year sentence for the abuse and is appealing his guilty verdict.
Graner's testimony indicated that England had not conspired with him to humiliate and abuse detainees, and a judge ruled that England could not then plead guilty to the charge. A few days earlier, England had agreed to accept responsibility for her actions in exchange for a lighter sentence than the 16 1/2 years in prison that she faced.
England appeared in some of the most iconic photographs of the Abu Ghraib abuse, the most notorious of which showed her posing with a naked detainee who was tethered to a leash. Graner said the tactic is standard in corrections to control unruly prisoners and that England posed thinking it was appropriate.
"It's a legal impossibility what she was pleading to," Hernandez said. "What the judge found was that because Graner was not admitting any guilt, she can't be involved in a conspiracy by herself. Graner was saying there was nothing wrong with what he was doing."
Military lawyers said the decision to put Graner on the stand could have scuttled the plea deal, because Graner has never admitted guilt and has argued he was simply following orders. Graner's claims have been in line with investigations that have revealed widespread abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan along with confusing interrogation tactics and procedures. England's lawyers initially said that their client was a bit player in a larger scheme of abuse before negotiating the plea deal.
England's case essentially has been thrown back to the beginning, as prosecutors will have to file new charges and could possibly have to go back to an Article 32 hearing, the military's version of a preliminary hearing. Hernandez said he believes England's defense team will work with prosecutors in trying again to secure a plea agreement, which would spare England from a full-blown court-martial. Hernandez said England is "doing well" and understands the status of her case.
"We just can't go through this again from the beginning," Hernandez said of his decision to leave. "She's in really capable hands."