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Court upholds conviction of Marine in killing of unarmed Iraqi

March 24, 2012 |  9:32 am

A military appeals court has rejected an appeal from a Camp Pendleton Marine serving an 11-year prison sentence in the killing of an unarmed Iraqi in 2006.

In a ruling released Friday,  the conviction of Lawrence Hutchins in the slaying of an Iraqi in the village of Hamandiya was reaffirmed by a three-judge panel of the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals in Washington.

His lawyer, S. Babu Kaza, said he plans further appeals on behalf of Hutchins, now in the brig at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station. Among those appeals is a request for parole or clemency.

The appeal rejected Friday asserted that Hutchins was denied a fair trial, among other reasons, because of undue command influence, ineffective counsel and because no testimony was presented about post-traumatic stress disorder and the battlefield conditions in Hamandiya.

Hutchins 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 had been killed in a firefight. Hutchins, now 27, 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, dubbed the Pendleton 8 by their supporters, only Hutchins is still behind bars. None of the others served more than 18 months. A court-martial jury at Camp Pendleton convicted Hutchins of unpremeditated murder and conspiracy.

Hutchins spent four years in the prison at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan. 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.

After 10 months of freedom, during which he returned to Camp Pendleton as a rifle-range instructor, Hutchins was ordered  back into custody in February 2011, despite support from former assistant secretary of Defense Bing West and others.

Hutchins was sent to the Miramar brig so he can be near his wife and two children in Oceanside.

In August, the Navy hierarchy rejected a recommendation from the military parole board that Hutchins be released. Hutchins needs to remain behind bars “to ensure he is sufficiently punished and to deter others from similar conduct,” wrote Assistant Navy Secretary Juan Garcia.

Although it is impossible to draw a conclusion about the reasons, attacks against Marines in the Hamandiya area declined following the April 26, 2006, killing. Many of the Pendleton 8 believe the decline was due to their actions.

“I feel that what we did saved lives,” said Rob Pennington, who served 15 months in the brig, received a bad-conduct discharge and is now a college student in San Diego. “If I have to live with being a felon because I saved Marines’ lives, that’s fine with me.”


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-- Tony Perry in San Diego

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