FORT HOOD, Texas -- A military judge reversed himself yesterday and decided to let prosecutors use a statement Army Private First Class Lynndie England gave to investigators implicating herself in the abuse of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
England's court-martial trial on seven counts of conspiracy and prisoner abuse will begin today with jury selection and opening statements. The reservist from rural West Virginia, who is shown in a number of graphic photos taken by Abu Ghraib guards in 2003, faces up to 11 years in a military prison if convicted.
England, 22, broke with the pattern of her co-defendants yesterday by opting for an all-officer jury. Two of the others were convicted by juries made up of officers and enlisted personnel, and the other six made plea deals. Most were members of Maryland-based 372d Military Police Company.
The judge presiding over England's case, Colonel James Pohl, had ruled in July that neither of two statements she made in January 2004, when she implicated herself in the abuse, would be admissible. He said he believed she did not fully understand the consequences when she waived her rights against self-incrimination before speaking to investigators.
Yesterday, however, the judge said he now thinks England knew what she was doing when she signed a waiver before making the second statement. Her first statement remains inadmissible.
In May, England made a plea agreement that eventually fell apart, but this time ''there's not going to be a deal," said Captain Jonathan Crisp, her lead defense lawyer.
Crisp said he plans to base much of his defense on England's history of mental health problems that date to her early childhood.
He said he also will focus on the influence exerted over her by Private Charles Graner, the reputed ringleader of the abuse.
Graner, who England has said fathered her young son, was convicted in January and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
In her attempted plea deal, England pleaded guilty to all of the same counts she faces this week in exchange for an undisclosed sentencing cap. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 11 years.
Pohl threw out the plea deal and declared a mistrial during the sentencing phase because Graner's testimony contradicted England's guilty plea.
Graner, testifying as a defense witness, had said pictures he took of England holding a prisoner on a leash were meant to be used as a training aid. But in her guilty plea, England said the pictures were being taken purely for the amusement of the Abu Ghraib guards.
Prosecutors have refused to discuss the trial.