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'Birther' sentenced to six months in prison, kicked out of Army

THIS STORY WAS UPDATED ON DEC. 16

FORT MEADE, Md. — Just hours after being found guilty at his court-martial, Army Lt. Col. Terrence Lakin said he was ashamed and remorseful over his decision to refuse deployment to Afghanistan earlier this year, but he hedged on questions about President Barack Obama’s citizenship.

“I don’t want [my career] to end this way,” a tearful Lakin said to military jurors during the sentencing phase of his trial Wednesday afternoon. “I want to continue to serve ... It crushed me not to be on deployment. I can be on a plane tomorrow. I’d truly do that.”

Lakin, a 17-year Army physician, was sentenced to six months in prison and dismissal from the service on Thursday after being found guilty of disobeying orders and ignoring his deployment orders. In April, Lakin posted an online video declaring he would not return to Afghanistan with his unit until questions regarding Obama’s birth certificate were answered to his satisfaction. The move made him an instant hero to the birther movement, which helped him raise money for his legal defense.

Obama was born in Hawaii, but questions about his parents and overseas upbringing were raised during his 2008 presidential campaign. Hawaiian officials that year verified the existence of his birth certificate, addressing those issues for all but a fringe group that insists that the president is not legally qualified to serve in the White House.

As part of their sentencing evidence, prosecutors played Lakin’s video for the jury. In it, he states that a president who is not a natural-born citizen “would subvert law and truth” and demands that Obama “release your original, signed birth certificate — if you have one.”

During an hour of unsworn testimony, Lakin called that video an embarrassing mistake, brought on by pressure and poor advice from supposed supporters.

“I would not do this again,” he said. “It was a confusing time for me, and I was very emotional. I thought I was choosing the right path, and I did not.”

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Lakin said he still believes questions exist about the president’s eligibility for office, but he told jurors that disobeying Army orders to prove that point was a poor way to show his frustration about what he said was a lack of investigation into the issue.

The 45-year-old physician appeared somber and exhausted from two days in court, and was battered by his own civilian defense lawyer during his sentencing statement.

“Are you done disobeying orders, Col. Lakin?” attorney Neal Puckett angrily asked his client. “You invited this court-martial. You invited this sentence. And for the rest of your life, you get to live with a federal felony conviction.”

Lakin sheepishly nodded along, while pictures of his wife and three children were shown to the jury.

Birthers in the gallery, who interrupted several portions of the afternoon session with applause at references to Obama’s birth certificate, reacted harshly to the questioning, shaking their heads and muttering “disgusting” as the defense attorney drew tears from his client.

Afterward they said their animosity was directed more at the court than at the defendant, who was not allowed to broach the topic of Obama’s legitimacy during the criminal proceedings.

Along with the jail time, Lakin will also forfeit his military retirement benefits. If he had served honorably until 2012, he could have left the service with a retirement package of more than $45,000 a year.

He told the jury he would do anything to salvage his Army career.

“I thought this was such an important question that I had to get an answer,” he said. “I thought I was upholding the Army values by questioning this … but I was wrong.”

shanel@stripes.osd.mil

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