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Fifth Marine Pleads Guilty in Murder of Innocent Man

CAMP PENDLETON (Reuters) - A U.S. Marine offered a guilty plea to conspiracy charges on Tuesday in connection with the April 2006 killing of a 52-year-old Iraqi grandfather in the village of Hamdania.

Lance Cpl. Robert Pennington, 22, entered the plea at a hearing and became the fifth man to plead guilty in the death of Hashim Ibrahim Awad. His plea must still be accepted by a military judge during a two-day hearing at Camp Pendleton that will conclude with Pennington's sentence.

Pennington is one of seven Marines and a U.S. Navy medic charged in October with murder, conspiracy, larceny, kidnapping and making false statements to investigators. Hearings in the matter are being held at the U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego.

Also on Tuesday, charges were re-issued against Lance Cpl. Trent Thomas. Thomas had planned to accept a plea deal but changed his mind and withdrew his guilty plea.

Navy investigators charge that the defendants conspired to kill a known insurgent, Saleh Gowad in the early morning hours of Aprii 26, 2006.

When they could not find Gowad, investigators say, they went instead to Awad's house and dragged the disabled former police officer from his home, put him in a bomb crater with a stolen shovel and AK-47, and shot him to death.

According to the testimony of an investigator in another court martial, the Marines then circulated a flyer in Arabic that warned Awad's neighbors that people planting bombs would be caught and killed.

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