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March 16, 2014

Fighting for freedom: Former U.S. soldier paroled, released Friday

NORMAN — Surprising supporters shortly after his arrival in Edmond, Michael Behenna, 30, stepped through the garage of his parents’ home to speak with reporters and wellwishers.

“It was an emotional day for me,” Michael said as his mother and father stood at his side.

Behenna was released from a Fort Leavenworth penitentiary earlier Friday morning. 

In July 2008, the U.S. Army charged Lt. Michael Behenna with premeditated murder for the death of purported Al Qaeda operative and terrorist Ali Mansur. Behenna received a 25-year sentence that later was reduced to a 15-year sentence.

Behenna’s parents, Scott and Vicki Behenna, of Edmond, fought vigorously through the court system to gain Michael’s freedom. Through appeals and pleas for parole and clemency, the Behenna family was surprised about a month ago when Michael was handed a letter in his prison cell stating he would be paroled March 14. At this point, the murder conviction remains on Michael’s record but he has regained his freedom 10 years earlier than expected.

Relatives, friends and neighbors were awaiting his return on the driveway at his parents’ Edmond home. A “Welcome Home Michael” banner was staked in the yard. Yellow ribbon was tied around trees in the neighborhood and on the Behenna’s mailbox.

At about 10:05 a.m. Friday, a white van arrived in a parking lot at the Fort Leavenworth penitentiary. 

The van door opened and a dozen family members got their first glimpse of Michael as a free man. 

“We all just kind of held our breath,” Vicki Behenna said during a phone interview at about 3:15 p.m. from inside her vehicle on Interstate 35 in the Emporia, Kan., area. “They opened the door and he walked out. You just are so overjoyed that he is free and able to start his life again.”

Vicki said Michael was overwhelmed. His longtime girlfriend Shannon Wahl was there. So were some of Michael’s supporters from the Leavenworth area.

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