Marine Faces Returning To Brig For Iraq War Crime
Thursday, June 18, 2015
Marine Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III is facing being locked up yet again for the 2006 murder of an Iraqi civilian in one of the military justice system's most long-running war crime cases.
Hutchins had thought he'd won his freedom after two military courts threw out his murder conviction from a 2007 trial because of legal errors, but under the military justice system the Navy was allowed to retry the case.
A jury of three enlisted men and three officers returned a guilty verdict Wednesday against Hutchins for a second time for the killing of the 52-year-old Iraqi policeman in the village of Hamdania.
Hutchins was allowed to go home with his wife, Reyna Hutchins, who sobbed when the verdict was read. He will return Thursday for sentencing, when he will learn if the judge will credit him for the nearly seven years he already served of an 11-year sentence.
The judge could sentence him to time served, to complete the more than four years left on his previous sentence, or some other possibility.
The jury also found him guilty of conspiracy and larceny. Prosecutors say the squad stole an AK-47 and the shovel planted near the body to make the victim look like he was an insurgent. They say Hutchins shot the man three times in the face and then bragged to his squad mates about how they got away with murder.
Hutchins, of Plymouth, Massachusetts, was convicted of unpremeditated murder. The jury found Hutchins not guilty of falsifying an official statement.
Hutchins, his attorney and the Marine Corps all declined to comment after the verdict.
The defense argued the military inquiry was shoddy and did not support allegations that Hutchins and his squad set out to kill 52-year-old Hashim Ibrahim Awad because he was an Iraqi male. All but one of his squad mates refused to testify again at his retrial. Many have said they now do not stand behind the 2006 statements they gave to military interrogators about how they marched a man from his home, bound him with zip ties and fired on him.
"They should bring forth competent evidence instead of just a rehash," Attorney Christopher Oprison, who represented Hutchins, told the jury during closing arguments.
The six other Marines and a Navy corpsman in his squad served less than 18 months locked up.
Maj. Samson Newsome arguing for the prosecution told jurors the investigators spent hours at the scene and in the village but did not know a crime was committed because Hutchins lied to them, saying the shooting was justified because the Iraqi man had fired upon the Marines and had been digging a hole for a roadside bomb. That cost military officers weeks in tracking down the crime, he said.
But after Iraqis reported the crime, investigators secured the body, weapon and testimony from squad mates, Newsome told jurors.
Hutchins has been in and out of the brig because of the rulings.
He was released briefly after a lower court overturned Hutchins' conviction in 2010, ruling his trial in 2007 was unfair because his lead defense lawyer quit shortly before it began. But the military's highest court at that time overruled that decision, saying the problem was not grave enough to throw out the conviction.
Then he was released again after the highest court in 2013 ruled interrogators had violated his rights by keeping him in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer for seven days.
Prosecutors argued that Hutchins waived his right to counsel at the time and willfully told his side of the story without coercion.
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