Former Army 1st Lt. Michael Behenna, 35, was driving his car and talking to his father on the phone on Monday when he heard the beep of another call. Behenna declined to answer it, thinking it was a telemarketer, according to an Associated Press report on Thursday. Later, Behenna, a native of Oklahoma checked his voicemails, returned the call and was informed that President Donald Trump would call him back to grant a pardon.
"My heart was beating fast," Behenna told The Oklahoman. "I had big ol' tears in my eyes. He said he'd heard about my case, and 'you have a lot of support behind you. Your case came highly recommended.' I'm choked up and I'm trying to say, 'Thank you very much.'"
“What I was told by President Trump … was that I received a pardon because of the prosecutorial misconduct that happened during the trial,” Behenna said.
In 2009, Behenaa was convicted of unpremeditated murder in a combat zone of the 2008 killing of an unarmed Iraqi prisoner, Ali Mansur Mohamed, who was suspected of belonging to al-Qaida. Behenna initially claimed that he had killed Mohamed in self-defense when he tried to grab Behenna's gun but this proved to be untrue. During the trial, Behenna confessed that he had ignored orders to take the prisoner home and instead took him to a railroad culvert, stripped him and questioned him at gunpoint about a roadside bombing that led to the death of two of Behenna's platoon members under his command.
Behenna was sentenced to 25 years, which was later reduced to 15 years and was released on parole in 2014 after serving less than five years. When his pardon was announced by the White House, it states that a "U.S. Army appellate court has "noted concern about how the trial court had handled Mr. Behenna's claim of self-defense."
Oklahoma politicians had pushed the White House to pardon Behenna, including former Gov. Mary Fallin and state Attorney General Mike Hunter. Following the pardon, Hunter stated "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."
Behenna also received support and effort from his parents. His mother, attorney and former federal prosecutor Vicki Behenna, led the charge to have her son paroled and then advocated for a presidential pardon. Behenna's father, Scott Behenna, a retired FBI agent who has also worked for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, used his connections as well to advocate for his son.
The White House statement about his pardon said, "While serving his sentence, Mr. Behenna was a model prisoner. In light of these facts, Mr. Behenna is entirely deserving of this Grant of Executive Clemency."