AWOL soldier says he’ll spend 10 months in jail under plea deal
COLORADO SPRINGS – A soldier who went AWOL before his second deployment to Iraq said he expects to be sentenced to less than a year in prison under a pretrial agreement with military prosecutors.Spc. Mark Wilkerson of Colorado Springs said he agreed to plead guilty to desertion and missing a troop movement in exchange for a sentence of up to 10 months, The Gazette reported in Tuesday’s editions.He was to be sentenced at a Feb. 22 court-martial at Fort Hood, Texas, where he has been since surrendering in August.Wilkerson, 23, was deployed to Iraq at the start of the March 2003 invasion. He said he applied for conscientious objector status after he returned because his views of the war changed.His request was denied and he was told his appeal would not be considered until his unit returned from another deployment starting in January 2005. He said he fled in December 2004.He surrendered at Fort Hood in August 2006, saying he needed to face his crime in order to move on with his life.Wilkerson said he expects to receive a dishonorable or bad-conduct discharge.”What comes out of it, I’m just going to have to look at what I can still do,” he said.His mother, Rebecca Barker of Colorado Springs, said she is relieved her son won’t spend years in prison but fears he will wind up with a felony conviction that could “destroy his future.”Barker said the military wasn’t a good fit for her son and her family discouraged him from joining.”The way Mark always envisioned the military was keeping peace and not about the guns and about the wars,” she said.Wilkerson said the Army “forced me to grow up.””I came in a boy, very naive in a lot of ways, and the Army did open my eyes. I’m afraid if I never joined the military, I might be the same person I was before,” he said.
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