Two years ago, Oklahoma City federal prosecutor Vicki Behenna looked out at the proud formation of 101st Airborne Division infantryman led by her son and prayed he would make it home from Iraq alive and unharmed.
“I worried about whether he would be killed, or lose a leg, an arm, be maimed. We prayed he would survive, but I never dreamed he would come home from Iraq charged with murder,” she tells Newsmax.
Her 25-year old son, Lt. Michael Behenna, last week began serving a 25-year sentence at the Ft. Leavenworth military prison in Kansas for killing suspected Al Qaeda bomber Ali Mansur Mohammed. Behenna was taken by a commercial airliner to the infamous military prison in shackles while still wearing his uniform
As Newsmax reported last week, military judge Lt. Col Theodore E. Dixon refused to declare a mistrial in Behenna’s case even after hearing evidence from the prosecution’s forensic expert that Behenna was innocent. The evidence had been withheld by the prosecution, Behenna’s defense attorney Jack Zimmermann contends.
“The prosecution had a constitutional duty to report exculpatory evidence to the defense. The prosecutors didn’t do it and that is so outrageous to me as a professional prosecutor that I can barely...” Vicki Behenna’s rage chokes off the end of her sentence.
Vicki Behenna said the day her son was convicted was the most painful of her life. Until his conviction, she said the experience more resembled some kind of bad dream that she hoped would eventually end well.
“I had an epiphany of sorts in the courtroom the day of sentencing when I learned that the prosecutors withheld Dr. MacDonell’s opinion from Michael’s defense lawyers. I wondered I had ever made such an egregious error. Had I ever stepped over the line just to get a conviction? Had I caused someone who was innocent to be convicted like what was happening to my son. It was the first time in all the years I had been a prosecutor my belief in the system was shaken,” the heartsick mother recalls.
Behenna’s entire extended family was sickened and ecstatic at the news the prosecutors withheld favorable evidence, Vicki Behenna said.
“Michael loved and enjoyed his soldiers. He also wanted to see them succeed,” she says.
“The death of his soldiers on April 21 was very difficult for Michael,” Vicki Behenna adds. “When he was home, Michael, his longtime girlfriend Shannon, my son Brett and I went to the mall. While at the mall Brett asked Michael something regarding the April 21 incident. Michael began to cry. Brett tried to comfort his brother and we immediately left the mall.
“Michael would tell me later that did not want to be in charge of peoples’ lives again; it was too hard to see them die.”
Occasional tears don’t mean Vicki Behenna isn’t as tough as her son and husband, a retired Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation homicide detective. She helped send Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh to death row for murdering and maiming hundreds of innocents in the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history until the World Trade Center attacks, which sent her son off to war.
“He was in [Reserve Officer Training Corps] as a freshman when 9/11 happened. It was so hard to keep him in school after that. He said he wanted to drop out and enlist. My eighteen year old son was telling me it was a call to arms and they needed men to fight.”
However he was ill prepared for the war in Iraq, the newly minted officer told his family. The war in Iraq was so different from the war he had trained for. No one teaches a young officer how to fight in a counter-insurgency war. They just have to learn the mission as they go.
When Vicki Behenna talks about getting her son out of prison, she again becomes the determined assistant U.S. Attorney. With resolve in her voice, she says one of her sons is studying to be a lawyer, another a doctor, and she intends to make sure Michael gets the same chance he was denied in a Ft. Campbell court room.
“Our beliefs are very strong. We believe in God and we believe in Michael,” she says. “After Michael was sentenced we were all there with him saying goodbye.
She tells the story of a soldier who worked with Michael shortly after her son was convicted,. The Master Sergeant kneeled told Michael: “you’re a good man and a fine soldier. Keep your head up, you’ll always be a soldier.” And then he saluted him, Vicki Behenna says.
Michael has a spirit that draws people to him, she adds. “He always has.”
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