WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected the appeal of 1st Lt. Michael Behenna, and the Edmond soldier’s father said the focus would now turn full-time toward the clemency and parole process.
“He will get out, he will move on with his life,” said Scott Behenna, of Edmond.
Michael Behenna, 30, has served four years of a 15-year sentence at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
Scott Behenna said his son is eligible for parole in early January and will have an initial hearing in October. The family also will seek to have President Barack Obama commute the sentence, Scott Behenna said.
The Supreme Court declined without comment to review Behenna’s conviction of unpremeditated murder in a combat zone.
Behenna shot and killed an unarmed Iraqi man in 2008 while interrogating him about terrorist activities.
Behenna’s petition to the nation’s highest court was a long shot since the court accepts few cases each year.
Written by a team of constitutional law professors and military justice experts, the petition drew national attention and the support of 27 retired generals and admirals.
The U.S. Justice Department initially declined to file a response to Behenna’s petition, but the Supreme Court seemed to indicate an interest in the case when it asked for the government’s arguments.
“We had a lot of expectations,” Scott Behenna said Monday.
Still, he said, he cautioned his son last weekend that the legal fight was likely over and told him “just to make peace with the fact that the guy you killed was a terrorist and would have killed others.”
New focus for family
Scott Behenna said the family has, for the last few years, been pursuing legal appeals while also trying to persuade the Army to reduce his sentence. Behenna had his sentence reduced by five years in 2010 following a hearing before the Army Clemency and Parole Board.
Now, he said, the focus will be on the “political battle” to get him out of prison as soon as possible. Scott Behenna and his wife, Vicki, of Edmond, have gone to Capitol Hill many times to meet with lawmakers about their son’s case.
Scott Behenna said Monday that some were reluctant to get involved while the legal appeals were pending. Now, he said, they’ll have no reason not to advocate for their son’s release.
What really happened in Iraq?
First Lt. Michael Behenna was questioning the Iraqi man, Ali Mansur, who had been identified as part of a terrorist cell, about a roadside bombing that killed two members of Behenna’s platoon.
Behenna testified at his trial that he shot Mansur in self-defense after the man threw a piece of concrete at him and lunged for his weapon.
The military’s highest appeals court ruled last summer that Behenna had lost his right to self-defense since he was the initial aggressor and armed while Mansur had no weapon.
Behenna’s petition warned that the ruling on self-defense threatened the lives of U.S. soldiers fighting unconventional wars in which the enemy is not easily identified and service members must often have their weapons drawn.
The Justice Department countered in a written brief to the high court that the Behenna case was decided on the specific facts and did not have broad implications for soldiers in combat zones.