Huffpost Politics

Conviction overturned in Iraqi soldier's death

Posted: Updated:

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — A Marine reservist's conviction in the death of an Iraqi soldier was overturned by a military appeals court, which ruled the judge who presided over the trial erred in his jury instructions.

The three-judge panel ruled last week in Washington that Delano Holmes' negligent homicide conviction should be overturned because judge Lt. Col. Jeffrey Meeks did not instruct jurors that the charge could legitimately be countered with a claim of self-defense.

The appeals panel instructed the Camp Pendleton court that originally tried Holmes to retry him or dismiss the charge.

The Marine jury convicted Holmes, 24, in December 2007 of negligent homicide and of making a false official statement in the stabbing death a year earlier of Pvt. Munther Jasem Muhammed Hassin in Fallujah.

Jurors acquitted him of unpremeditated homicide, which carried a potential life sentence.

Holmes' attorney Steve Cook had claimed the Marine acted in self-defense after Hassin opened his cell phone and then lit a cigarette. Cook told jurors the men were not supposed to display any illuminated objects because of the threat of sniper fire, and Holmes tried repeatedly to get Hassin to extinguish the cigarette.

Prosecutors rejected the self-defense claims, saying Hassin suffered 17 stab wounds, 26 slashes and a chop to the face that nearly severed his nose, while Holmes was not injured.

Holmes was sentenced to a bad-conduct discharge and to the 10 months he had already spent in the brig awaiting his court-martial. He also had his rank reduced from lance corporal to private.

It wasn't immediately known whether Holmes would be retried.

Cook and Capt. Brett Miner, who prosecuted Holmes in his original trial, did not return calls seeking comment.

Holmes enlisted in the Marine reserves in May 2004 and was on his first deployment in Iraq, Cook said. He is from the 1st Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, based out of Lansing, Mich.