Former soldier wins parole after Iraqi murder conviction
By CHRIS CASTEEL | The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City | Published: February 12, 2014
Former U.S. Army 1st Lt. Michael Behenna has won parole and will be released from Fort Leavenworth on March 14, his mother, Vicki Behenna, said Wednesday.
Behenna, who was convicted of unpremeditated murder in a combat zone, learned early Wednesday morning and called his parents in Oklahoma City.
“We go between tears and laughing,” Vicki Behenna, of Edmond, told The Oklahoman. “I’m just so thankful. I’m just so very very thankful. It’s wonderful.”
Behenna, 30, has served five years of a 15-year sentence. He was convicted in 2009 of killing an Iraqi man connected to al-Qaida while questioning him.
This was his first year of eligibility for parole.
His parents, Vicki and Scott, and brother Brett appeared last month before the U.S. Army Clemency and Parole Board outside Washington and presented the members with a 400-page report that included a letter from Michael, letters of support from Gov. Mary Fallin and members of the congressional delegation and law enforcement officials.
The family told the board that Michael would work on a western Oklahoma cattle ranch and take classes at Oklahoma State University in ranch operations.
“They came and got him about 7:30 this morning and gave him a letter to read,” Vicki Behenna said. “The letter said his request for clemency (a reduction in sentence) had been denied but that his request for parole had been granted.”
She said, “I think he’s in shock. I started crying immediately when he told me. Of course over the phone I can’t see his expression. He would kind of go, ‘Yeah, it’s good, mom. It’s good.”
She said he immediately expressed concern about two fellow inmates.
Behenna was officially dismissed from the Army last month. The secretary of the Army signed his dismissal, which had been pending during Behenna’s appeals through military courts and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Lt. Col. Alayne Conway, spokeswoman for the U.S. Army, said, “The recommendation of the Army Clemency and Parole Board was based on a thorough review of Mr. Behenna’s case. While Mr. Behenna was denied clemency, members voted unanimously in favor of parole based on a number of factors, including a strong parole plan with family and community support.
“Mr. Behenna will have served five years confinement, and will continue to be under parole supervision for ten years.”
Gov. Mary Fallin, who has been monitoring the case closely since she was in Congress, said, “I am glad this long ordeal has finally come to an end for Michael Behenna and his family. Michael went to Iraq to serve his nation and to defend liberty both here and abroad. Instead, he found himself mourning the loss of his friends from the inside of a cell.
“I believe the Army acted appropriately and compassionately in offering him parole.”
Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, whose district includes Edmond, has sent staff members to every hearing in the Washington area and has written officials about the case. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, has also dispatched staff to official hearings and led congressional delegation letters to the Army.
Lankford said Wednesday that when one of his staff members got the call from the Pentagon and relayed the information, “everyone in our office spontaneously burst into tears. It’s a really good day for the Behenna family … I’m looking forward to meeting Michael sometime soon.”