POSTED: 1:12 p.m. HST, Dec 16, 2010
LAST UPDATED: 1:16 p.m. HST, Dec 16, 2010
FORT MEADE, Md. — An Army doctor who disobeyed orders to deploy to Afghanistan because he questioned President Barack Obama's eligibility to be commander in chief was sentenced by a jury Thursday to six months in a military prison and dismissal from the Army.
The military jury spent nearly five hours deliberating punishment for Lt. Col. Terrence Lakin on Thursday after three days of court martial proceedings at Fort Meade, outside Baltimore.
Lakin was convicted of disobeying orders — he had pleaded guilty to that count — and missing a flight that would have gotten him to his eventual deployment. An Army commander, Maj. Gen. Karl Horst, still has to approve the sentence returned by the jury and has the option to reduce it. Lakin could then appeal. He was to begin serving his sentence immediately.
In online videos posted on YouTube, Lakin aligned himself with the so-called "birther" movement that questions whether Obama is a natural-born citizen, as the Constitution requires for presidents, and said he was inviting his own court martial.
But Lakin said Wednesday that despite his questions about Obama's eligibility for office, he was wrong not to follow Army orders. He acknowledged that the Army was the wrong place to raise his concerns about Obama, asked to keep his job and said he was now willing to deploy.
"I don't want it to end this way," Lakin told the jury Wednesday under questioning from his lawyer. "I want to continue to serve."
Military prosecutors disagreed. On Thursday morning, a military prosecutor asked the jury to sentence Lakin to at least two years in a military prison and to dismiss him from the service. It was a sentence he "invited and he earned," military prosecutor Capt. Philip J. O'Beirne told the jury.
The prosecutor said Lakin had other options such as resigning or asking not to be deployed if he had issues with his orders. Instead, he used his deployment earlier this year as a political ploy, O'Beirne said, going to great lengths to create a "spectacle" by informing people of what he was doing.
"He knew exactly what he was doing and he did it anyway," O'Beirne told the jury, asking members to send a message with their sentence and telling them they could "write the headline" that appears in papers about Lakin.
But Lakin's defense attorney, Neal Puckett, asked the jury to be lenient, calling Lakin's case unique. He described the 17-year veteran and Greeley, Colo. man as giving, compassionate and patriotic but also naive in trusting the poor advice of a previous civilian lawyer. He called Lakin the "victim of an obsession," referring to questions about Obama's eligibility, and said he made "one bad decision on one day of his career."
Officials in Hawaii say they have seen and verified Obama's original 1961 birth certificate, which is on record with that state. But birthers have not been satisfied with that assurance or the "Certification of Live Birth" Obama has released. The certification is a digital document that is a record of a person's birth in the state, but the certificate does not list the name of the hospital where Obama's mother gave birth or the physician who delivered him.
Puckett asked the jury to consider Lakin's wife and three children at Christmas and said he should be allowed to stay in the Army because of his value as a doctor.
"Make him work off his debt to the Army," Puckett said, suggesting Lakin could be sent on multiple deployments.
Lakin's parents declined comment after the proceeding.
Associated Press writer Ben Nuckols contributed to this report.