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During a court martial hearing today, PFC. John Jodka III testified that he knowingly violated the rules of engagement when he participated in the April shooting death of an Iraqi man.

Jodka, an Encinitas native, pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and conspiracy to obstruct justice. He will be sentenced on Nov. 15.

Jodka, along with six other Marines and a Navy medic, was initially charged with murder, kidnapping and conspiracy in the death of Hashim Ibrahim Awad in Hamdaniya, a small village west of Baghdad. Jodka pleaded guilty after reaching an arrangement with government prosecutors in which he agreed to testify against his squad mates in exchange for a reduction in charges.

Government prosecutors claim the Marines and Navy medic abducted Awad from his home, bound his hands and feet and shot him to death. The troops then used a stolen shovel and shell casings from the stolen rifle to make it appear as if Awad was an insurgent caught in the act of planting a roadside bomb, authorities allege.

During the hearing, Jodka told the judge that the squad, at the urging of its leader, Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III, had initially planned to abduct a suspected Iraqi insurgent and later lie about the incident. Unable to find the other man, they later abducted Awad.

Jodaka admitted that he fired on Awad, and that the shooting violated the rules of engagement.

“Civilians and noncombatants are not lawful targets,” Jodka said, according to The North County Times.

Jodka answered, “Yes, sir,” when asked if he thought his actions were wrong and said he knew that he could have refused to participate, the newspaper reported.

“My role involved if anyone were to ask about the incident and what happened … I would proceed to tell them that it was a legitimate ambush and we were engaged lawfully,” Jodka said, according to the newspaper.

Jodka is the second of the accused to accept responsibility for Awad’s death, and several others are reportedly negotiating plea agreements.

Earlier this month, Petty Officer 3rd Class Melson J. Bacos, the Navy medic, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and kidnapping charges. Under a plea agreement, Bacos agreed to testify against his squad mates and prosecutors dropped the murder charge against him.

Bacos was sentenced to serve 12 months in the brig.

DANIEL STRUMPF

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