Marine set to be tried for 3rd time in Iraq war-crime case
CAMP PENDLETON, California (AP) — A retrial is set to begin for a U.S. Marine convicted in a high-profile court martial for the 2006 killing of an Iraqi civilian.
Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III is scheduled to be tried again Monday at Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego, the Los Angeles Times reported. Hutchins was convicted in 2007 by a Marine jury of unpremeditated murder for killing a 52-year-old former Iraqi police officer in Hamdania village.
The killing was meant to warn Iraqis to stop planting roadside bombs and cooperating with insurgent snipers.
Six other Marines and a Navy corpsman were also convicted in the Pendleton 8 case. Hutchins, the squad leader, has served over half his 11-year sentence.
Appeals courts twice overturned his conviction, once because interrogators violated his rights in 2006 and because his lawyer was allowed to retire on the eve of the trial.
Hutchins has been free on appeal since mid-2013, restored to his rank of sergeant and assigned to Camp Pendleton, where he lives with his wife and children.
Several of his co-defendants, who are free and living civilian life, believe the killing was brutal but saved American lives because attacks on U.S. troops declined in the next months. But other Marines believe the corps must retry him to prove it holds ranks accountable for unauthorized use of deadly force.
“The Marine Corps is doing what justice demands,” said Gary Solis, a retired Marine and now an adjunct law professor at Georgetown University. “An innocent Iraqi male was taken prisoner by Hutchins and his squad and, while he was bound, repeatedly shot in the face (and) murdered.”
Christopher Oprison, a former Marine and Hutchins’ defense attorney, said he believes the Marine Corps is pursuing Hutchins’ case for political purposes.
The case “is an indictment of the entire military justice system,” Oprison said. Comments made by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus in 2009 alleging guilt have tainted the case and prevented Hutchins from getting a fair trial, he said.
“The political pressure to make an example out of Sgt. Hutchins is palpable,” Oprison said. “Enough is enough. The gloves are off. We hope to have Sgt. Hutchins home with his wife and children on Father’s Day — a free man.”
Marine prosecutors would not comment.
Per military rules, the jury will include officers and enlisted. Most if not all have served tours in Iraq, Afghanistan or both. The maximum sentence is roughly four years, the remainder of the 11-year sentence. The jury could also sentence Hutchins to time served, allowing him to immediately leave the Marine Corps. He has had job offers.
After a verdict, Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr., who commands the U.S. Marine Forces Central Command, can dismiss a guilty verdict or reduce a sentence. He cannot mandate a guilty verdict or increase a sentence.