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Soldier Found Guilty of Desertion in Iraq

Soldier Found Guilty of Desertion in Iraq

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FORT STEWART, Ga. (AP) -- A military jury convicted a U.S. soldier Friday of desertion for leaving his combat unit in Iraq in protest of the war.

Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejia of the Florida National Guard was found guilty by a jury of four officers and four enlisted soldiers. Jurors deliberated almost two hours.

He faces up to a year in jail and a bad conduct discharge and was to be sentenced Friday afternoon.

Mejia testified Thursday that he disobeyed orders to return to his unit after a furlough because he planned to seek status as a conscientious objector. He said he also believed he should have been discharged under a National Guard regulation limiting service of non-U.S. citizens to eight years. Mejia, a citizen of Costa Rica and Nicaragua, served for nine years.

Mejia, 28, was missing from the Army for five months before turning himself in in March.

Mejia said he became upset after seeing civilians hit by gunfire and watching an Iraqi boy die after confusion over which military doctor should treat him.

After the verdict was read, Mejia hugged his mother, Maritza Castillo, and she kissed him on the cheek.

"He feels that he still did the right thing, and he did it under his conscience and his beliefs. His feelings have not changed," Castillo said.

Military prosecutors argued Mejia, an infantry squad leader, abandoned his troops and didn't fulfill his duty.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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