Marine con­victed in Iraqi’s death

Los Angeles Times - - THE STATE - By Tony Perry Twit­ter: @LATsandiego

CAMP PENDLE­TON — A Marine sergeant, on trial for the sec­ond time in the killing of an un­armed Iraqi man in 2006, was con­victed Wed­nes­day of un­premed­i­tated mur­der in what has be­come one of the most legally and po­lit­i­cally com­plex courts-mar­tial stem­ming from the Iraq war.

A six-Marine jury took a lit­tle more than three hours to con­vict Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins, 31. He faces a pos­si­ble sen­tence of more than four years in prison and a dis­hon­or­able dis­charge — or as lit­tle as time served — when the jury re­con­venes Thurs­day to con­sider pun­ish­ment.

Hutchins’ wife, Reyna, burst into tears when the jury’s ver­dict was read. Hutchins, his face f lushed, em­braced her tightly and stroked her back.

In 2007, Hutchins was con­victed of un­premed­i­tated mur­der and sen­tenced to 15 years. Had he been con­victed of pre­med­i­tated mur­der in that trial, he would have faced a manda­tory life sen­tence or a pos­si­ble death penalty.

But that jury, with­out ex­pla­na­tion, switched the charge to un­premed­i­tated mur­der, in which a life sen­tence is an op­tion but not manda­tory. The jury’s sen­tence of 15 years was later re­duced by a gen­eral to 11 years.

Hutchins, whose pre­vi­ous con­vic­tion was over­turned twice on ap­peal, has served more than six years be­hind bars, at Ft. Leav­en­worth, Kan., and then the brig at Mi­ra­mar Marine Corps Air Sta­tion. He has been free since 2013, await­ing re­trial.

The max­i­mum sen­tence from the re­trial is the re­main­ing por­tion of the 11year sen­tence.

The jury Wed­nes­day also con­victed Hutchins of con­spir­acy and lar­ceny but ac­quit­ted him of mak­ing a false re­port about the 2006 in­ci­dent. Un­der mil­i­tary rules, only four of six jurors’ votes were needed for a con­vic­tion. The ac­tual vote was not re­vealed.

The de­fense strat­egy dur­ing the re­trial fo­cused on as­ser­tions that the NCIS in­ves­ti­ga­tion that led to seven Marines and one Navy corps­man be­ing charged in the killing was in­com­pe­tent and po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated in a “rush to judg­ment.”

NCIS, de­fense at­tor­ney Christo­pher Oprison told jurors, was re­act­ing to crit­i­cism that the mil­i­tary had been slow to in­ves­ti­gate the killing of 24 Iraqis, in­clud­ing seven chil­dren, by Marines in Ha­ditha in late 2005.

NCIS agents co­erced “a bunch of scared kids who just wanted to go home” into mak­ing in­crim­i­nat­ing state­ments, Oprison told the re­trial jury.

Hutchins did not tes­tify. The killing oc­curred in the Iraqi com­mu­nity of Ha­mandiya, west of Bagh­dad. All eight mem­bers of his squad were later con­victed.

Six of seven of Hutchins’ for­mer squad mem­bers re­fused to tes­tify against Hutchins at the re­trial, cit- ing their 5th Amend­ment right against self-incrimination. The six signed af­fi­davits dis­avow­ing their tes­ti­mony from their courts­mar­tial in which they im­pli­cated Hutchins.

The judge al­lowed pros­e­cu­tors to have the tran­scripts of pre­vi­ous courts­mar­tial read to the jury.

One for­mer squad mem­ber did tes­tify anew, re­call­ing that Hutchins, as he looked at the dead man, told the oth­ers, “Gents, con­grat­u­la­tions, we just got away with mur­der.”

Hutchins and the oth­ers were ac­cused of drag­ging a re­tired Iraqi po­lice of­fi­cer from his home on April 26, 2006, throw­ing him in a hole, killing him and telling su­pe­ri­ors that he had been killed in a fire­fight.

“This was a text­book case of a con­spir­acy and mur­der,” pros­e­cu­tor Maj. Adam Work­man told jurors. Hutchins, the squad leader, was the se­nior Marine in­volved in the al­leged plot.

Pros­e­cu­tors said the killing was meant as a warn­ing to vil­lagers to stop help­ing in­sur­gents plant road­side bombs that were killing and maim­ing Marines.

At their own courts-mar­tial, sev­eral for­mer squad mem­bers tes­ti­fied that Hutchins fired three shots into the man’s face. Of the eight de­fen­dants, dubbed the Pendle­ton 8 by their sup­port­ers, none of the oth­ers served more than 18 months.

A mil­i­tary ap­peals court in April 2010 ruled that he had been de­nied a fair trial be­cause one of his at­tor­neys was al­lowed to with­draw from the case on the eve of trial.

The gov­ern­ment later won a re­in­state­ment of the con­vic­tion. In 2013, the ap­peals court ruled that he had been de­nied a fair trial be­cause of the lengthy in­ter­ro­ga­tion by NCIS agents de­spite his re­quest for an at­tor­ney.

The Marine Corps in­sisted on a re­trial. Await­ing re­trial, Hutchins has been as­signed to Camp Pendle­ton and has lived in Ocean­side with his wife and three chil­dren.

Robert Lach­man Los An­ge­les Times

SGT. LAWRENCE Hutchins, shown in 2010, faces more than four years in prison for the 2006 killing.

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