The president signed an executive grant of clemency, which is a full pardon, to former Army 1st Lt. Michael Behenna, according to a statement from White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Behenna was convicted of unpremeditated murder in a combat zone after killing Ali Mansur, a suspected al-Qaeda detainee in Iraq. A military court in 2009 sentenced Behenna, who claimed self-defense, to 25 years in prison. He moved back to his home in Oklahoma after he was paroled five years later and was scheduled to remain on parole until 2024.
According to military law, an unpremeditated murder conviction allows the jury to impose any punishment except the death penalty, compared with premeditated murder, which is punishable by a minimum life sentence without parole and possibly capital punishment.
Sanders said Behenna’s case attracted wide support from Oklahoma elected officials ― including former Gov. Mary Fallin (R) and state Attorney General Mike Hunter (R) ― and dozens of military leaders, including retired Gen. Anthony Zinni, who served as a Trump administration special envoy for the Persian Gulf until January.
Behenna said during his trial that while in Iraq, an intelligence report revealed the identity of an al-Qaeda operative suspected of helping plan a 2008 explosion that killed two of his friends. Behenna’s pardon application said Mansur was interrogated but freed because the military didn’t find evidence linking him to the explosion, according to The Washington Post.
Behenna was ordered to transport Mansur back to his village for release, but he acknowledged during his trial that he instead took him to a railroad culvert, where he stripped the man naked and interrogated him at gunpoint about the explosion, according to the Post. Behenna claimed he shot Mansur because he thought the man was reaching for his gun.
After he was found guilty of unpremeditated murder, Behenna filed for a mistrial, claiming prosecutors hid evidence that could have helped his case. A judge denied that motion, though Behenna’s sentence was eventually reduced to 15 years.
Hunter first requested a pardon for Behenna in February 2018, according to The Associated Press. He renewed his request in April, saying he believed the conviction was unjustified because of erroneous jury instructions and prosecutors’ failure to turn over evidence supporting Behenna’s self-defense claim.
On Monday, the state attorney general said he applauded Trump for the pardon and added that Behenna “deserves to move on from this incident.”
“I commend President Trump’s decision to grant a full pardon for Mr. Behenna,” Hunter said in a statement. “Mr. Behenna served his country with distinction, honor and sacrifice. He has admitted to his mistakes, has learned from them and deserves to move on from this incident without living under its cloud for the rest of his life. My hope is that Michael and the rest of his family can rest easy this evening knowing they can put this tragic situation behind them.”