ARLINGTON, Va. â€” The parents of 1st Lt. Michael Behenna urged the U.S. Army parole board on Thursday to suspend the rest of his 15-year prison sentence and release him.
Scott and Vicki Behenna, of Edmond, made their second appearance of the year before the Army Clemency and Parole Board arguing that he posed no threat and that he was suffering from extreme stress when he shot an Iraqi man suspected of being a member of al-Qaida.
Shannon Wahl, Behenna's girlfriend, also spoke at the hearing, which was closed to the public.
â€œHe's not a danger,â€ Wahl, of Los Angeles, said afterward.
â€œHe could be a productive leader in society.â€
Behenna, 27, was convicted in 2009 by a general court-martial of unpremeditated murder in a combat zone and is serving his sentence in a military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
The hearing Thursday was the first of two important events this month in Behenna's case, which has attracted national attention. On Thursday, the Army Court of Criminal Appeals is scheduled to hear arguments about whether Behenna received a fair trial; those arguments will also take place in Arlington.
After a parole board hearing in January, the Army official who oversees review boards ordered a sentence reduction of five years. Before that, Behenna's original sentence of 25 years already had been reduced to 20 years by a judge.
Vicki Behenna said she and her husband Thursday gave an overview of her son's case, since some members of the five-person parole board weren't on it during their last appearance.
She said they emphasized the stress their son was under in the three weeks between the time a roadside bomb killed two members of Behenna's platoon in April 2008 and the time he shot the man who had been linked to terrorist activities in the area.
According to testimony at his trial from platoon members, Behenna hadn't been sleeping, and a doctor testified that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Behenna shot Ali Mansur after stripping him naked and questioning him at gunpoint in a deserted area.
Scott Behenna said he also focused on the relative length of his son's sentence, arguing that it is still at least five years longer than any other U.S. military sentence he could find for unpremeditated murder in a combat zone. He said the board seemed receptive and asked good questions.
The parole board will make a recommendation within weeks to Catherine C. Mitrano, the deputy assistant secretary of the Army over review boards. She will decide whether to reduce Behenna's sentence, and her decision can't be appealed, though Behenna can seek clemency again next year.
â€œThe board can actually suspend the rest of his sentence,â€ Vicki Behenna said Thursday.
â€œAnd we asked them to do that and told them that if they didn't feel that they could suspend the rest of the sentence that at least reduce it so that Michael would be eligible for parole today or as soon as possible.â€