The Edmond Sun

March 14, 2014

U.S. Army frees Edmond soldier

Mark Schlachtenhaufen
The Edmond Sun

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. — At about 10:05 a.m. Friday, a white van arrived in a parking lot at a Fort Leavenworth penitentiary.

It was a moment five years in the making for the Behenna family. The van door opened and a dozen family members, including Scott and Vicki Behenna, got their first glimpse of their son Michael as a free man.

“We all just kind of held our breath,” Vicki Behenna said during a phone interview at about 3:15 p.m. from inside her vehicle on Interstate 35 in the Emporia, Kan., area. “They opened the door and he walked out. You just are so overjoyed that he is free and able to start his life again.”

Vicki said Michael was overwhelmed. His longtime girlfriend Shannon Wahl was there. So were some of Michael’s supporters from the Leavenworth area.

After time for hugs and embraces, the Behenna caravan left Fort Leavenworth and made the fairly short drive to Kansas City. Michael got his first taste of freedom in the form of local barbecue. Michael and his brothers Brett and Curtis were reunited at Curtis’ apartment where he is staying as he goes through medical school.

Scott said it has been a day of renewed experiences for Michael.

At a Fort Leavenworth recreation center, Michael sat in a chair and said it was the most comfortable he’s sat on in five years. At the barbecue restaurant, he enjoyed the taste of his lunch and had a bite here and there from others’ plates. At his brother’s apartment, he had a conversation with family members while he laid on the mattress, which was quite a change from the one in his cell in the Fort Leavenworth Disciplinary Barracks.

The Behennas spoke from their vehicle, which was being escorted by members of the Patriot Guard Riders.

Once they crossed the Oklahoma state line, another group of Patriot Guard Riders would escort them from Blackwell to Edmond, where many members of the community have showed their support for Michael in various ways.

Scott said somewhere, sometime Friday, prosecution expert witness Dr. Herbert MacDonell would be making a toast to Michael. In July 2008, the U.S. Army charged Lt. Behenna with premeditated murder for the death of purported Al Qaeda operative and terrorist Ali Mansur.

During the trial, MacDonell told military prosecutors the only logical explanation for what happened was that Mansur had to be standing, reaching for Behenna’s gun when he was shot. This contradicted the prosecution’s theory that Mansur was executed while seated on a rock.

Behenna testified that while he was interrogating Mansur he turned his head towards his interpreter, and when he did, Mansur lunged for his gun. He fired a controlled pair of shots.

The jury did not get to hear MacDonell’s testimony.

It was a dark day for the Behenna family when Michael was taken from them to begin a 25-year sentence, which was later reduced to 15 years on a lesser charge.

Scott said when he first saw Michael outside the barracks walls his thoughts went back to Michael’s parole hearing last month. Michael’s brother Brett, now an Oklahoma County assistant district attorney, handled much of the work.

Scott said somebody must have said something or heard something which convinced them that Michael deserved to be freed.

“Today was a 180-degree turn from when they took him away,” Scott said. “Thank God. Thank God that this has happened.”

The Behennas were expected back in Edmond at around 6-7 p.m today. Vicki thanked all the supporters who live across the country and in other countries. The family have said at some point, after Michael has become a bit more reacclimated, he will make a public thank you. The Edmond Sun will forward that information. | 341-2121, ext. 108