Movie director Mike Wilkerson said that when he met the parents of Michael Behenna, he knew the soldier wasn't guilty of premeditated murder. That's not the way the soldier was raised.
Wilkerson will premiere a documentary, “Purple Hearts: A Requiem for Mad Dog 5,” at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Kerr Auditorium in the SandRidge Energy Complex downtown as part of this year's deadCenter Film Festival lineup.
The documentary focuses on U.S. Army 1st Lt. Behenna, an Edmond native, and the soldiers he led in 5th Platoon, Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division.
Behenna was charged in 2009 with unpremeditated murder and sentenced to 25 years of confinement at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., a U.S. disciplinary barrack. The sentence later was reduced to 15 years, but Wilkerson said his documentary points out several flaws during the trial and evidence that he thinks would support Behenna's innocence.
“I'm sure that he is innocent,” Wilkerson said.
The story, told through the accounts of the soldiers of the 5th Platoon, forensic experts and Behenna's friends and family, starts with the death of two of Behenna's soldiers by an improvised explosive device planted by suspected al-Qaida operative Ali Mansur. Behenna captured Mansur, but was told to release him.
Behenna then decided to interrogate Mansur. During interrogation, he shot and killed Mansur in what Behenna testified was self-defense as Mansur tried to take Behenna's gun. Prosecutors disagreed with the self-defense argument.
Wilkerson documents what happened in Behenna's trial and how the soldier appealed his sentence and asked for a retrial because the military jury was not allowed to hear from a forensic expert who supported Behenna's self-defense claim.
Wilkerson said he spent nearly 100 hours a week for a full year trying to complete the project.
Michael Behenna's parents, Scott and Vicki, have both made careers working in government. Scott Behenna has worked for the FBI as an intelligence analyst since 2008 and Vicki Behenna is a federal prosecutor. Both said they hope the documentary will open people's eyes to the injustice they feel their son has been served.
“We felt like that the public needs to know what's happening to these soldiers when they are being charged,” Scott Behenna said. “I think it displays what honorable men we have fighting in this country. It's not just about Michael, it's also about his platoon and the two men they lost and what the rest of the soldiers thought of those guys and how it hurt them.”
Vicki Behenna said her family had been asked before to turn Michael's story into a book or screenplay, but they trusted Wilkerson to do the job right because of his track record of successful documentaries, and because he is a native Oklahoman.
Wilkerson said he didn't have any problem getting people to open up. Many of Michael Behenna's friends and fellow soldiers were more than willing to share stories.
Thousands of letters of support
Vicki Behenna said she continues to be amazed at the support her son receives. She proudly shows off thousands of letters of support that fill her home and countless tokens sent to her from people around the world.
“There are a tremendous amount of people that support Michael and his story,” Vicki Behenna said. “I think it's kept him sane and keeps him hopeful, because what else does he have right now?”
Despite all her frustrations, Vicki Behenna said she still believes in the judicial system and she hopes justice will come to her son someday.
“We know that he is going to be home at some time,” she said. “All we ever wanted is our son back and all we have ever asked the Army to do is to give him a trial where the jury can hear all the evidence. And we just have to continue to hope and pray that happens soon.”
IF YOU GO
Film to be screened
at deadCenter festival
“Purple Hearts: A Requiem for Mad Dog 5” will be screened at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Kerr Auditorium of the SandRidge Energy Complex, 123 Robert S. Kerr Ave., as part of the deadCenter Film Festival. Tickets are $10. For more information, go to www.