Citing Finances, Lynndie England's Defense Team Quits

By Leon Worden
Signal Multimedia Editor

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

*MEDIA—MANDATORY CREDIT: The Signal newspaper of Santa Clarita, Calif.

he legal team that advised Pvt. Lynndie England to plead guilty to charges of abusing detainees at Abu Ghraib prison has quit, England's lead attorney confirmed Tuesday.
    "I am no longer on the case," said attorney Richard A. Hernandez, who headed England's four-person civilian defense team.
    England will continue to be represented by her military lawyer, Cpt. Jonathan Crisp, who did not return a phone call Tuesday. Hernandez said he and Crisp have "worked together very closely."
    Hernandez called his decision to step down "a difficult one" and said it was "based solely on financial considerations."
    "The civilians on the defense team took this case on a pro-bono basis," Hernandez said in an e-mail message. "After 11 months, we could no longer afford to begin the process all over again."
    The military judge handling all of the prisoner abuse cases, Col. James Pohl, declared a mistrial May 4 when defense testimony contradicted England's admission of conspiring with Spc. Charles Graner Jr. to abuse a detainee.
    "You can't have a one-person conspiracy," Pohl said after Graner testified that the photographs he took of England using a leash to extract a prisoner from a cell were intended for training purposes and weren't improper.
    "We interviewed Graner a couple of different times and he never said anything like that," Lori Hernandez, Richard Hernandez' wife and paralegal, said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
    "He's got his issues and he stuck it to Lynndie," she said of Graner, who is appealing the 10-year sentence Pohl handed him in January.
    Lori Hernandez said it was "heartbreaking to have to leave" England's defense. Hernandez said she, her husband and two investigators had been working for free and paying their own travel expenses since they took over England's case in June.
    "If we won the Lotto, it wouldn't be an issue and we'd still be there," Lori Hernandez said.
    "We wish her the best," she said. "We totally believe in her. We want what's best for her and her child."
    England, 22, of Fort Ashby, W.V., gave birth in October to a boy fathered by Graner, 36, who has since married another Abu Ghraib defendant, Spc. Megan Ambuhl, 29.
    Lori Hernandez said that because of the mistrial, no charges are currently pending against England and the government will have to redraft them. But it won't be able to reintroduce every charge, she said.
    Under her plea agreement, the Army bargained away two counts of committing an indecent act, which carry a penalty of five years each. England initially faced a maximum of 16.5 years behind bars but the plea whittled it down to 6.5 years.
    Pohl ruled that the "government can't bring them (the two counts) back," Lori Hernandez said, despite his eventual rejection of England's plea.
    "In a way we feel like we've completed the case because the work is done," she said. "But there's a potential to start all over, and we couldn't do that."
    She said she believes England will rely on Crisp's representation and will not hire new civilian counsel.
    "We're hopeful that they can reword the plea deal and take it straight to sentencing," Lori Hernandez said.
    England is the only one of the original prison-guard defendants whose case has not yet been adjudicated. On Tuesday a military jury sentenced Spc. Sabrina Harman, 27, to six months' confinement after she was convicted Monday of six of seven abuse-related charges.