WASHINGTON — “I was stunned. I was knocked back on my heels. If I hadn't had some pressing deadlines at work, I might have fallen into a depression.”
Vicki Behenna had been counting on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces to give her son a new trial.
But in a decision handed down on July 5, the military's highest appeals court upheld 1st Lt. Michael Behenna's conviction of unpremeditated murder in a combat zone for killing a suspected terrorist in Iraq in 2008 during an interrogation.
In an interview last week, Vicki Behenna, of Edmond, said she had been convinced the court would find her son's 2009 court martial had been marred by errors.
The court did find that the judge in that court martial had given an erroneous instruction regarding the Army soldier's right to self-defense; but, in a 3-2 decision, the court ruled that the error wouldn't have affected the outcome of the trial.
Vicki Behenna said that, after the decision came down, she visited her son at the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where he is 31/2 years into a 15-year sentence.
“He said, ‘Mom, I'm in a good place mentally, physically and spiritually,' she said. “It lifted me up like you wouldn't believe to see it hadn't changed him and made him bitter. He inspires me to keep fighting.”
Vicki Behenna, who is a federal prosecutor in Oklahoma City, and her husband, Scott, a former investigator for the OSBI, have been doing everything they can think of to help their son.
They have raised money to pay the private attorney, met with numerous members of Congress to bring attention to the circumstances, started a website, pleaded for clemency before an Army panel and have written to everybody they hoped could have some influence.
Some members of Oklahoma's congressional delegation have been tracking the case — which has received national attention — and have sent staff members to court arguments and clemency hearings.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, said: “Having met with Lt. Behenna's family and reviewed his case, I profoundly disagree with the appeals court's failure to overturn his conviction.
“The U.S. government has placed soldiers like Lt. Behenna under extremely difficult circumstances in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. When there is any uncertainty about the facts of a particular case, soldiers in uniform, under the stress of long combat, ought to be given the benefit of the doubt.
“I will continue to explore whatever alternatives may be available to assist in this tragic case. Lt. Behenna and his family continue to have the support and prayers of literally thousands of Oklahomans as they endure this awful ordeal.”
Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, said: “Vicki and Scott Behenna have demonstrated inspiring levels of love, courage and tenacious advocacy on behalf of their son Michael throughout this long process, as they should.
“Throughout this challenging time for the Behenna family, I remain respectful of the Army's adherence to protocol within the legal system. I will continue to honor and pray for the entire Behenna family during this difficult time.”