WASHINGTON — Imprisoned U.S. Army 1st Lt. Michael Behenna, in an open letter to his supporters, criticized the military justice system but said he was still hoping he would get a new trial “where all the evidence will be heard.”
Behenna's letter, released by his parents Tuesday on a website devoted to the Edmond native's case, comes about a month after the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals upheld his conviction for unpremeditated murder in a combat zone.
“I wanted to write this letter to the thousands of people all over the world who continue to support me and still have hope that justice is indeed attainable in the military justice system,” Behenna's letter states.
“It is an attempt to show my mindset here in prison to the people whom I have not had the opportunity to meet.”
Behenna, 28, is serving a 15-year sentence at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., for killing an Iraqi man in 2008 that he suspected of terrorist activities. His case has drawn national attention; some supporters traveled from other states to Arlington, Va., for parole hearings and for legal arguments in the case.
Behenna, whose appeal to the Army court argued that important evidence that would have bolstered his claim of self-defense was withheld at his trial, is expected to appeal next to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. That will be his last stop in the military justice system; if that court refuses to hear his case, he cannot appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I remain hopeful that in the end justice will prevail and that I may have a fair, impartial trial where all the evidence may be heard,” Behenna wrote.
In his letter, Behenna said he hopes his supporters will “begin to shine a light on the unchecked and ‘under the table' injustice that runs rampant in our military justice system; a system that we here at Leavenworth have known firsthand, and now the public is getting a glimpse of.
“This system cannot be ‘for justice and not against injustice.'”
The Army appeals court decision last month ruled that no evidence was deliberately withheld and that, had it been given, “it would not have changed the outcome of the trial beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The court said the judge properly told jury members that Behenna had no right to claim self-defense if they found beyond a reasonable doubt that he had assaulted the Iraqi without provocation or legal justification.