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Appeal hearing set for Camp Pendleton Marine in Iraqi murder case

November 13, 2012 |  7:24 am


A military court is set to hear an appeal Tuesday from a Camp Pendleton Marine convicted of murder in the 2006 killing of an Iraqi civilian.

Lawrence Hutchins is the last of the so-called Pendleton 8 to be behind bars. Attorneys for Hutchins will argue before the Washington-based Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces that Hutchins' rights were violated by prejudicial comments made by the secretary of Defense and by Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents, who continued to grill him despite his request for an attorney.

Lawyers for the Marine Corps deny both assertions.

Hutchins, now 28, is one of eight troops accused of dragging a retired Iraqi police officer from his home, throwing him in a hole, killing him and then telling superiors that he died in a firefight.

Hutchins was a sergeant and as the squad leader was the senior Marine involved in the plot.

According to testimony, the killing was meant as a warning to villagers to stop helping insurgents plant roadside bombs that were killing and maiming Marines. The Marines were frustrated and angry that suspected insurgents were being released by Iraqi authorities.

Of the eight defendants, seven Marines and a Navy corpsman, dubbed the Pendleton 8 by their supporters, none of the others served more than 18 months. Hutchins was convicted of unpremeditated murder and conspiracy by a court-martial in 2007 and sentenced to 15 years in prison, later reduced to 11 years and a dishonorable discharge.

Hutchins spent four years in prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. 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 by the courts in February 2011, despite support from former Asst. Secretary of Defense Bing West and others.

Hutchins was sent to the brig at the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station to be closer to his wife and two children in Oceanside. He was denied parole earlier this year. With credit for good conduct, Hutchins will probably serve another three years in the brig if further appeals fail.


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-- Tony Perry in San  Diego

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