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Marine calls retrial in Iraq killing 'devastating'

January 28, 2014
Associated Press

SAN DIEGO (AP) — A Marine sergeant said he is devastated to learn that the corps will retry him on a twice-overturned murder conviction — the latest twist in a nearly decade-old Iraq war crime case.

Lawrence Hutchins III is scheduled for arraignment Wednesday at Camp Pendleton in northern San Diego County, where he is now stationed.

"I will continue to hope and pray that this ordeal is over soon, and my family is spared any more harm," Hutchins said Monday.

Hutchins led an eight-man squad that was charged with kidnapping a retired Iraqi policeman in the village of Hamdania in 2006 and shooting him to death in a ditch.

Hutchins has said he thought retired policeman Hashim Ibrahim Awad was an insurgent leader. Prosecutors accused the squad of planting a shovel and AK-47 to make it appear he was an insurgent.

The Marine Corps determined that the seriousness of the crime warranted a retrial and prosecutors have sworn statements and other evidence to support the charge, Lt. Col. Joseph Kloppel, a corps spokesman, said Monday. He declined to provide further details.

Hutchins said he was "devastated" by the announcement.

His wife is pregnant with their third child and "the stress this case has brought upon her is tremendous," Hutchins said.

Hutchins said that since his release last year from military prison, he has done "done everything I can to be the perfect Marine."

He was working in a marksmanship training unit at Pendleton but was removed two weeks ago, Hutchins said.

"There is nothing that I want more than for this whole situation to be over ... to be able to move on and begin a life with my family away from all of this," he said. "But even though it has been nearly eight years, it looks like that will not be possible."

Hutchins spent two stretches in the brig — amounting to more than half of his 11-year sentence — but he was released in July after the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces overturned the conviction.

The military's highest court supported his claims that his rights were violated when he was held in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer for seven days during his 2006 interrogation in Iraq.

Hutchins' conviction was first overturned by a lower court in 2010 that ruled his 2007 trial was unfair because his lead defense lawyer quit shortly before it began. Hutchins was released briefly before the military's highest court weighed in and reinstated his conviction in 2011, saying that it did not believe the change in his defense lawyer was a grave enough error to throw out the conviction.

Prosecutors have argued that Hutchins waived his right to counsel at the time and willfully told his side of the story without coercion.

Former Marine Corps attorney Thad Coakley said the courts have thrown out the convictions for procedural errors rather than the merits of the murder charge, so it's important the prosecution exhaust every avenue.

"If we're perceived to have ignored this because it happened in war, or white-washed it because of procedural errors or to have not taken it seriously, then we are discrediting ourselves," he said. "This is not only about past conflicts but future conflicts and the way we hold other nations and ourselves to standards of conduct."

The overturning of the conviction had been considered a major blow to the military's prosecution of U.S. troops accused of killing unarmed Iraqis.

"The fact it's gone on this way is frustrating, but the case has still not been resolved, and ultimately a resolution is what both Sgt. Hutchins and the U.S. government want, even if the end result that each wants is different," Coakley said.

 
 

 

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