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Appeals court to hear case of Marine in Iraqi civilian killing

July 3, 2012 |  8:12 am

Hutchins
The nation's highest military appeals court has agreed to hear an appeal on behalf of a Marine from Camp Pendleton, the last Marine still behind bars for the killing of an Iraqi civilian in Hamandiya, west of Baghdad, in 2006.

The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, which hears only 5% of the cases presented to it, agreed Monday to hear the appeal of Lawrence Hutchins, now midway through an 11-year sentence at the brig at the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego.

The court, which is one step below the U.S. Supreme Court, agreed to hear Hutchins' appeal on two grounds: That the case was improperly influenced by comments made by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, and that Hutchins' constitutional rights were violated by Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents who continued to interrogate him despite his request for an attorney.

According to court testimony, Hutchins convinced his squad to drag a 52-year-old retired Iraqi police officer from his bed and execute him in hopes that his dead body would serve as a warning to Iraqi insurgents and their supporters, who were killing Marines with sniper shots and roadside bombs.

The Marines were angry with an Iraqi justice system that released suspected bombers.

Hutchins, who was a sergeant, was convicted of unpremeditated murder at a court martial in 2007 and given a 15-year sentence as the organizer of the plot.

All seven of the other Hamandiya defendants either pleaded guilty or were convicted at court martial. None served more than 18 months in the brig.

Hutchins, now 27, spent four years in the prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. A general reduced his sentence to 11 years, and a military appeals court in April 2010 ruled he had been denied a fair trial because one of his attorneys was allowed to withdraw from the case on the eve of trial.

After 10 months of freedom, during which he returned to Camp Pendleton as a rifle-range instructor, Hutchins was ordered  back into custody last year, despite support from former Asst. Secretary of Defense Bing West and others. He was sent to the Miramar  brig, rather than Leavenworth, so he could be near his wife and children in Oceanside.

While in the Miramar brig, Hutchins received a commendation from authorities for helping save the life of an inmate who had cut himself and was quickly bleeding to death in an adjoining cell.

 “He is still a leader of Marines and will always carry himself that way, even behind bars,” said Hutchins' attorney, Babu Kaza.

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-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Lawrence Hutchins. Credit: Robert Lachmann / Los Angeles Times

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