A Royal Marine found guilty of murdering an injured Afghan fighter has lost his battle to overturn his conviction but has had his 10-year sentence reduced to eight.
The bid by Sergeant Alexander Blackman was rejected by Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas, Sir Brian Leveson and Lady Justice Hallett at the Court Martial Appeal Court in London.
But the judges allowed a sentence appeal by Blackman, reducing his 10-year minimum term to eight years – the least he must serve before he can be considered for parole.
After being convicted last November at a court martial in Bulford, Wiltshire, the 39-year-old was sentenced to life with the minimum term of 10 years.
He was also “dismissed with disgrace” from the Royal Marines after he had served with distinction for 15 years, including tours of Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland.
As well as challenging his ``unsafe'' conviction at a recent appeal hearing, his defence argued that his sentence was ``manifestly excessive''.
The killing happened in Helmand province in 2011 while Blackman, who is known as Al, was serving with Plymouth-based 42 Commando.
He shot the Afghan, who had been seriously injured in an attack by an Apache helicopter, in the chest at close range with a 9mm pistol before quoting a phrase from Shakespeare as the man convulsed and died in front of him.
Blackman told him: “There you are. Shuffle off this mortal coil, you c***. It’s nothing you wouldn’t do to us.”
He then turned to comrades and said: “Obviously this doesn’t go anywhere, fellas. I just broke the Geneva Convention.”
During the trial Blackman was known as Marine A, and his junior colleagues - who were both cleared – as Marines B and C.
They were later named as Corporal Christopher Watson and Marine Jack Hammond.
The shooting was captured on a camera mounted on the helmet of Cpl Watson.
Blackman, who denied murder, said he believed the victim was already dead and he was taking out his anger on a corpse.
He has said he felt ashamed at his lack of self-control, describing it as a “stupid lack of self-control and lapse in judgment”.
During the appeal Blackman’s QC Anthony Berry said he was convicted by a seven-man court martial board, and in explaining a point of law raised in the challenge said: “The appellant submits that the possibility that he was convicted by a simple majority renders his conviction inherently unsafe.”
He argued that “by virtue of the possibility that he was convicted by a simple majority of a seven-man board there remains doubt as to whether the prosecution in fact satisfied the criminal standard of proof”.
But the appeal conviction was dismissed by the three judges.
An MoD spokesman said: ``We respect the authority and decision of the appeal court, and it would be inappropriate for us to comment on the sentence.''
Reducing the minimum term, Lord Thomas said: ``On all the evidence before us it is clear that in the events surrounding the murder of the insurgent, the appellant acted entirely out of character and was suffering from combat stress disorder.
“It is very unfortunate that the only medical evidence before the court martial and before us was obtained over two years after the murder.
“We have accorded particular attention to the view of the court martial that thousands of other service personnel experienced the same or similar stresses and still acted properly and humanely.
“However, in assessing the evidence of stress and its effect on the appellant, we attach particular importance to the evidence in relation to the remoteness of the command post at which the appellant had been stationed for five and a half months and the limited contact with those commanding him.
“His mental welfare had not been assessed in the way in which it would ordinarily be assessed by a commanding officer and there is evidence that he was becoming somewhat paranoiac about the Taliban’s ’gunning’ for him.”
The judge added: “Taking into account the whole of the evidence, we conclude that combat stress arising from the nature of the insurgency in Afghanistan and the particular matters we have identified as affecting him ought to have been accorded greater weight as a mitigating factor.”
Lord Thomas concluded: “On that basis we have therefore concluded that although he remains subject to a sentence of imprisonment for life, the minimum term which he must serve before being considered for parole should be reduced to eight years.
“His release will then depend on the Parole Board and, even thereafter, he will remain subject to the terms of the conditions of his licence. To that extent and to that extent only is this appeal allowed.”