Skip to comments.Marine families wait and worry; (Frustrations, anger expressed by relatives of Pendleton 8)
Posted on 07/25/2006 9:58:21 AM PDT by NormsRevenge
OCEANSIDE ---- For the families of two Camp Pendleton Marines accused of murdering an Iraqi civilian, life is now defined by collect telephone calls from their loved ones and weekend trips of hundreds of miles to visit them in the base brig.
They also have a constant companion: worry.
"It's so hard on us," said Diann Shumate, mother of 20-year-old Lance Cpl. Jerry Shumate Jr. "There are times when I don't know if I will survive this."
Wynoma Leesch, the grandmother of Cpl. Marshall Magincalda, 23, said she constantly frets over what may happen to her grandson, who faces the possibility of the death penalty if convicted of premeditated murder in the April 26 death of Hashim Ibrahim Awad in the village of Hamdania, Iraq.
"My grandson says, 'Grandma, I didn't do anything wrong.' I have hopes it's all going to turn out all right, but I just don't know," said Leesch, who turned 86 on Friday.
Family members of Shumate and Magincalda made their comments to the North County Times shortly after visiting the men at the brig Sunday afternoon.
The two-hour session was punctuated by tears and expressions of frustration and anger at the military judicial process. It ended on a more upbeat note with the families saying they draw their strength from the kind words and support from total strangers.
The families say they are convinced that the men did not do anything wrong, but said they worry that the "Pendleton 8," as the group is called by some, are being used by the government and Marine Corps as an example that alleged war crimes will not go unpunished.
The military is accusing the eight men ---- seven Marines and one Navy corpsman ---- of dragging Awad out of his home, binding him and placing him in a hole, then shooting him many times.
The troops also are charged with planting a stolen shovel and a stolen AK-47 assault rifle next to Awad's body to make it appear he was an insurgent in the midst of planting a roadside bomb.
At the end of June ---- more than a month after the men were arrested ---- the Marine Corps levied charges of murder against Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III, 22; Cpl. Trent D. Thomas, 24; Hospitalman 3rd Class Melson J. Bacos, 20; Lance Cpls. Tyler A. Jackson, 22; Robert B. Pennington, 22; Pfc. John Jodka III, 20; and Shumate and Magincalda.
Many of the men's family members said they do not know the details of what happened that April night, nor have they asked.
"I know where my son stands," Shumate's father, Jerry Shumate Sr., said, "and I know my son wouldn't do this."
"The story doesn't really matter to us," said his wife, gripping the napkin that doubled as a tissue. "Getting him out is what matters to us."
The plight of their sons fills every waking minute, the parents said.
"On a scale of one to 10? Twenty," Diann Shumate said of the degree of concern that consumes her. "Every second of the day. Who sleeps?"
Asked if she is confident that the men will be cleared of the allegations, she paused and said: "I have high hopes. But you can't have confidence anymore because everything changes day to day."
What has been helpful, the parents said, is the response from the community ---- be it in their hometowns, in San Diego County, or across the nation.
"These kids, they have no idea of the support," grandmother Leesch said. "No idea."
Marshall Magincalda started to speak of the many people who approach him to offer kind words ---- there is no mistaking his connection to the Hamdania case since he drives a large sport utility vehicle emblazoned with the phrase "Free Camp Pendleton 8" and a Web site established to raise money for his son's defense.
"There was one woman from Arkansas," he begins, but then stopped. He put his head down and dabbed his eyes with a napkin. It happens often. He finds himself too overcome to speak.
Both families live hundreds of miles from Camp Pendleton. Visiting is not cheap. The Magincaldas, who live in California's Central Valley, come down to visit when they can. Inmates can generally get visitors only on the weekends.
The visits are more of a hardship for the Shumates, who live in the tiny western Washington state hamlet of Matlock.
Jerry Shumate said he has seen his son only a few times since he was jailed.
Diann Shumate, who has been ill, said she has seen her eldest son twice since his abrupt return from Iraq. When she saw him in June, her son, like his squadmates, wore shackles and had to talk to his visitors behind thick plate glass.
Sunday marked the first time that the worried mother was able to put her arms around her son since his return ---- and "I didn't want to let go," she said.
The men were detained in Iraq on May 12, and sent back to Camp Pendleton on May 24 and put in the base brig.
"The fact that they have been incarcerated for two months, it is ... it is unacceptable," Shumate Sr. said, adding that he believes the Marine Corps should have had its investigation completed before it pulled the men out of the field.
"They should have had their crap together," he said.
Jerry Shumate said he believes his son and the others are remaining positive.
"I can see it in their eyes," he said. "For where they are at, they are in a good position."
As the parents spoke, an older woman approached, perhaps not knowing that these were some of the parents of the "Pendleton 8," but clearly having overhead some of the mention of the Marine Corps, of Iraq and of firefights. The woman leaned in between Leanne Magincalda and Jerry Shumate.
"Can I just tell you how proud and grateful I am for your sons?" said Heda Carpenter, her English heavily soaked in a Czech accent. She then told the group that she had escaped from the one-time communist country.
When the woman walked away, each parent reached for a napkin. Diann Shumate slid down a few seats, put her arms around Leanne Magincalda and cried.
Magincalda responded in kind, the two mothers sharing a moment of grief, support and tears in the back of a restaurant not far from the main gate of Camp Pendleton, where their sons sit in single-man cells.
The parents all said that the bond they share with the other parents of the accused men gives them some of the support they need. They also share in their frustration and often other-worldly feelings.
They all say it was surreal to turn on the news, tune into talk shows and hear their son's names. But at other times, Diann Shumate said, "It is so real."
The seriousness of what their sons face weighs on each. They hired private attorneys to represent their sons, but now struggle with paying legal bills. They take every collect phone call from the brig ---- even though each connection costs $18. They field frequent calls from reporters.
It cost the Shumates $1,000 to visit their son this weekend. It has been a rough year for them, including a car accident a few months ago, surgery and hospitalization for an ailing Diann Shumate, an Iraq deployment for their son ---- and now their son's battle against murder charges.
As the conversation began to wind down, Marshall Magincalda brought up the stranger who thanked them for their sons' military service.
"That woman that came over?" Magincalda said of the support that buoys him. "That is it."
"Yeah, that is the essence," Shumate Sr. said.
"My grandson says, 'Grandma, I didn't do anything wrong.' I have hopes it's all going to turn out all right, but I just don't know,"
I pray these men are exonerated and quickly. This is ridiculous.
Leanne Magincalda, mother of incarcerated Marine Cpl. Marshall Magincalda, has an emotional moment while talking about her son Sunday during an interview at Denny's Restaurant in Oceanside. Sitting with her are Diann and Jerry Shumate, whose son is also being held at the brig at Camp Pendleton.
If there is a drop in enlists in the armed forces much of the blame can be put on incidents such as this. Our military personnel treated worse than a terrorist.
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