MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

March 14, 2014

Ex-soldier convicted in Iraqi prisoner’s death released


Associated Press

— OKLAHOMA CITY — A former U.S. Army first lieutenant from Oklahoma who was convicted of killing an Iraqi prisoner has been released from a military prison after being granted parole.

Michael Behenna, 30, was released from Fort Leavenworth, Kan., on Friday morning after serving five years of his 15-year sentence for unpremeditated murder in a combat zone. His father, Scott Behenna, said his son felt great being welcomed by family and friends as he walked out of prison.

“It’s a glorious feeling,” Scott Behenna, a former law enforcement official, said.

After leaving Fort Leavenworth, Michael Behenna and his family traveled to Kansas City to have lunch and visit his brothers before heading home to Oklahoma.

“Just to sit down with your family — we haven’t sat down and had family dinner in five years,” Vicki Behenna, Michael’s mother, said. Michael Behenna declined to comment.

A group of about 25 Patriot Guard motorcycle riders who wanted to escort the family back to their home in Edmond met the Behennas at the Oklahoma state line.

“It means a lot,” Scott Behenna said. “These guys escort funerals of soldiers who have no family so much of the time, and it’s huge to see they would extend that same service to someone in Michael’s circumstance.”

Michael Behenna was convicted in 2009 in the death of an unarmed Iraqi man. Behenna said he acted in self-defense when the man reached for Behenna’s handgun, but the Army said such an argument didn’t stand up because Behenna was pointing his weapon at the prisoner.

The Army Clemency and Parole Board denied clemency but granted Behenna parole last month.

“I’ve had five years to think about these events, not just the death of my soldiers, but the death of Mr. Mansur,” Michael Behenna wrote in a report submitted to the board, The Oklahoman reported. “I regret taking another human being’s life. I regret that Mr. Mansur’s children will grow up without a father.”

Scott Behenna also said Friday that his son also felt a certain guilt for his release because there are other soldiers in similar situations who remain at Fort Leavenworth.

“We’re sensitive not to really celebrate. ... For him to walk away knowing he has freedom and they don’t, to just celebrate seems to maybe be in conflict with what he’s feeling,” Scott Behenna said.

The board stated that its decision to grant parole was in part because of the strong support system Michael Behenna has at home.

“This weekend we will spend just mostly with family, but on Monday we will start doing things back to get him back into civilian life, like getting clothes, a driver’s license, things of that nature,” Vicki Behenna said.

Michael Behenna plans to work on a cattle ranch in Western Oklahoma once he has settled into civilian life and is enrolled in Oklahoma State University for the fall.

Scott Behenna said he expects a warm welcome when the family arrives home, where the rest of their family is waiting.

“It will be a jungle with a lot of people and family,” he said.

Michael Behenna drew support from Gov. Mary Fallin and the state’s congressional delegation after his conviction. When his parole was announced in February, Sen. Jim Inhofe and Reps. James Lankford, Tom Cole, Frank Lucas, Markwayne Mullen and Jim Bridenstine, all Republicans, issued a joint statement praising the decision to parole Behenna.