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Marine at Camp Pendleton dealt setback in effort to avoid return to prison in Iraq slaying

January 12, 2011 |  7:17 pm

A military appeals court Wednesday dealt a setback to a Marine sergeant hoping to avoid returning to prison for his alleged role as the ringleader of a plot that led to the kidnapping and fatal shooting of an unarmed Iraqi.

Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III was released in late April from the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. after an appeals court ruled that he was denied a fair trial because one of his lawyers left the case on the eve of his court martial at Camp  Pendleton.

Hutchins had served four years of an 11-year sentence meted out after he was convicted of unpremeditated murder in the shooting of a 52-year-old Iraqi man in the village of Hamandiya in 2006.

The military appealed the 2010 ruling. Hearing that appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Services ruled that while the decision of the court martial judge to allow the lawyer to withdraw from the case was improper, "the errors did not materially prejudice the substantial rights" of Hutchins.

The court ruled that the case be returned to the judge advocate general of the Navy so that an appeals process testing whether Hutchins' rights were harmed can commence.

Hutchins, who was returned to duty at Camp Pendleton, said in an e-mail to family and friends that he considered the eight months of freedom since last year's decision to have been a blessing from God that allowed him to re-establish his relationship with his family and daughter.

"To all of you who have stood beside me throughout all of this, you have my deepest regards and thanks," said the e-mail. "...Remember, as Marines we NEVER retreat; we NEVER surrender. We adapt and overcome. So with that said, Semper Fidelis."

Seven Marines and one Navy corpsman were convicted in the incident. The other defendants, given lighter sentences, are all free. None served more than 18 months.

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--Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Marine Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins at his court martial at Camp Pendleton. Credit: Associated Press

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