A Marine convicted of murder in one of the most prominent and convoluted legal cases of the Iraq War is back in court this week at Camp Pendleton, facing retrial for the slaying of an Iraqi man dragged from his bed during the height of the conflict.
During opening statements on Tuesday, military prosecutors alleged that Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III conspired with his squad in 2006 to snatch a suspected insurgent, kill him and stage the scene to make it look like the Iraqi man was burying a roadside bomb.
On that night in Hamdaniya, Iraq, Hutchins “took the law into his own hands and became judge, jury and executioner,” said Maj. Samson Newsome, brandishing a rusted shovel and AK-47 rifle the squad allegedly used to frame the murder victim.
Christopher Oprison, a Marine veteran who is Hutchins’ civilian attorney, told the panel of military peers serving as jury that the government’s “wild story” was based on “a lot of bad facts,” spotty evidence and confessions that were “browbeaten” from his squadmates by overzealous investigative agents.
Hutchins was just doing his job: “taking out bad guys,” Oprison said, and he is not guilty of murder and the other charges against him: conspiracy, making false official statements and larceny.
“They needed a fall guy,” Oprison said, because of another botched case involving Marines gunning down unarmed civilians in Haditha, Iraq. Now, nearly a decade after the Hamdaniya killing, “is it justice they seek, or just a conviction?”
Hutchins, now undergoing his second general court-martial, was incarcerated for nearly seven years for the crime.
He was convicted in 2007 of unpremeditated murder and was serving an 11-year sentence at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. In 2010, he was released on appeal because one of his lawyers had been improperly dismissed from the case.
After eight months of freedom, the appeal was overturned and Hutchins was sent to the brig at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. In 2013, the military’s highest court threw out his conviction because Hutchins had been held in a trailer for a week at Camp Fallujah without access to a lawyer before he confessed to the killing.
Sectarian violence was surging in 2006 after the Samarra Mosque bombing. Marines like Hutchins stationed near Baghdad and the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah were under constant threat of sniper attacks and improvised explosive devices planted in the roads.
Hutchins’ defense team argues that the squad leader and his entire command were frustrated that insurgents they detained were repeatedly released from Abu Ghraib prison because of insufficient evidence.
“Sgt Hutchins did his job as a squad leader remarkably well under exceptionally hostile circumstances and in spite of poor leadership up the chain of command,” Oprison said in an email to The San Diego Union-Tribune.
“I love my Marine Corps, but this politically motivated prosecution shows the worst of what the Marine Corps is about — it will eat its own to save the institution.”
Supporters who have followed the case since the beginning, like Army veteran Skip Franklin, 70, of Oceanside, feel that Hutchins is being hung out to dry by his commanders.
Source: Camp Pendleton Marine retried for Iraq murder | UTSanDiego.com