5 won’t tes­tify against Marine

For­mer mem­bers of Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins’ squad as­sert 5th Amend­ment rights at his court-mar­tial.

Los Angeles Times - - THE STATE - By Tony Perry tony.perry@la­times.com

De­spite of­fers of im­mu­nity from pros­e­cu­tion, four for­mer Marines and a for­mer Navy corps­man have de­clined to tes­tify against Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins in his re­trial in the 2006 killing of an Iraqi.

The five, all of whom were con­victed in the killing and served time in the brig, as­serted their 5th Amend­ment right against self-in­crim­i­na­tion dur­ing the court-mar­tial last week at Camp Pendle­ton.

Hutchins, 31, was the squad leader the night that pros­e­cu­tors say the squad dragged a 52-year-old Iraqi from his bed, tied his hands, shot him mul­ti­ple times and then tried to make the in­ci­dent look like a fire­fight.

Hutchins stood over the wounded man and pumped three bul­lets into his face, which “blew up the back of his skull,” one of the pros­e­cu­tors, Maj. Samson New­some, told the six-man jury in his open­ing state­ment.

The jury — three of­fi­cers and three se­nior en­listed — must de­cide whether Hutchins should again be con­victed of un­premed­i­tated mur­der and pos­si­bly re- turned to pri­son for four­plus years.

Con­victed in 2007, Hutchins served more than six years of an 11-year pri­son sen­tence be­fore his case was over­turned on ap­peal and re­turned to Camp Pendle­ton for re­trial.

Pros­e­cu­tors por­tray Hutchins as the ring­leader who per­suaded his squad to kill an Iraqi in Ha­mandiya, west of Bagh­dad, as a warn­ing to oth­ers not to plant road­side bombs or co­op­er­ate with in­sur­gent snipers.

Hutchins told the squad that they were go­ing to kill “any Iraqi male, be­cause this town is go­ing to get the mes­sage,” New­some told the jury

key part of the pros­e­cu­tion’s case was to be tes­ti­mony by oth­ers in the squad that Hutchins de­vised the scheme and di­rected squad mem­bers in the killing and at­tempted coverup.

But Hutchins’ at­tor­ney, Christo­pher Oprison, said the squad mem­bers’ con­fes­sions and later tes­ti­mony were co­erced and fal­si­fied by Naval Crim­i­nal In­ves­tiga­tive Ser­vice agents.

“Ev­ery sin­gle one of them was brow­beaten,” Oprison said in his open­ing state­ment.

Over Oprison’s ob­jec­tion, the judge ruled that the pros­e­cu­tion could sub­mit as ev­i­dence ver­ba­tim tran­scripts of the squad mem­bers’ pre­vi­ous tes­ti­mony.

The five, all rep­re­sented by lawyers, as­serted that they did not want to risk pros­e­cu­tion for per­jury if, in tes­ti­fy­ing, they changed their tes­ti­mony. They had also re­fused to talk to pros­e­cu­tors be­fore the trial, New­some said.

The pros­e­cu­tion is ex­pected to fin­ish its case Mon­day. Hutchins is not slated to tes­tify. Bing West, for­mer as- sis­tant sec­re­tary of De­fense and au­thor of books about com­bat Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan, is listed as a de­fense wit­ness.

Oprison has ar­gued that the jury must hold the pros­e­cu­tion accountable for prob­lems with the NCIS in­ves­ti­ga­tion. “Is it jus­tice they seek or just a con­vic­tion?” Oprison said of the gov­ern­ment.

Hutchins, he said, is not guilty. In Iraq, he said, Hutchins was do­ing his job to “de­stroy the en­emy and bring his Marines home alive.”

Un­der mil­i­tary rules, the jury will vote only once. If at least four mem­bers do not vote for con­vic­tion, Hutchins is ac­quit­ted. If ju­rors con­vict Hutchins, they have the op­tion of sen­tenc­ing him to time served, the re­main­der of the 11-year sen­tence or some­thing in be­tween.

As the squad leader, Hutchins re­ceived the long­est pri­son sen­tence of all de­fen­dants. None of the oth­ers served more than 18 months. All were then dis­charged from the mil­i­tary — un­der or­ders from Navy Sec­re­tary Ray Mabus.

Robert Lach­man Los An­ge­les Times

MARINE SGT. Lawrence Hutchins is be­ing re­tried in the killing an Iraqi man in 2006. His 2007 con­vic­tion was over­turned on ap­peal while he was in pri­son.

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