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Appeals court overturns Camp Pendleton Marine’s conviction in 2006 killing of Iraqi man

Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins, who is serving an 11-year sentence, was denied a fair trial because one of his lead attorneys was allowed to leave the case just before his court-martial, the court finds.

April 23, 2010|By Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times

A military appeals court Thursday overturned the conviction of a Camp Pendleton Marine in the execution-style killing of an Iraqi man in 2006 in Hamandiya, west of Baghdad.

The Washington, D.C., court found that then-Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins was denied a fair trial because one of his lead attorneys was allowed to leave the case just before his court-martial. The attorney left active duty.

Hutchins, 26, is serving an 11-year sentence at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan. The Marine Corps has 30 days to decide whether to appeal the 8-1 decision of the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals.

Seven Marines and a Navy corpsman were initially charged in the case. Hutchins, convicted of unpremeditated murder and given a dishonorable discharge, is the only one still behind bars. None of the others served more than 16 months.

Hutchins was sentenced to 15 years, but the sentence was reduced to 11 by the commanding general.

Prosecutors asserted that he was the ringleader in a plot to kidnap a suspected insurgent, kill him and then claim he died in a firefight. The killing was meant as a warning to other insurgents to stop burying roadside bombs.

Marine Capt. Babu Kaza, Hutchins' appeal attorney, said his client will remain in prison until the Marine Corps decides whether to appeal.

Hutchins was convicted in 2007 and transferred to Leavenworth. The sheriff in Plymouth County, Mass., where Hutchins' family lives, has promised Hutchins a job as an emergency medical technician when he is released from prison, according to court documents.

Meanwhile, in Baghdad on Thursday, a U.S. Navy SEAL was cleared of charges that he covered up the alleged beating of an Iraqi prisoner suspected of masterminding the 2004 killings of four American security contractors.

The Blackwater guards' burned bodies were dragged through the streets, and two were hanged from a bridge over the Euphrates River in the former insurgent hotbed of Fallouja in what became a turning point in the Iraq war.

A Navy jury found Petty Officer 1st Class Julio Huertas not guilty of dereliction of duty and impeding the investigation. The jury heard too many differences between the testimony of a sailor who claimed he witnessed the Sept. 1 assault at a U.S. base outside Fallouja and statements from half a dozen others who denied his account.

Huertas said he would rejoin the SEALs, the Navy's elite special forces, as soon as possible. His was the first trial of three SEALs accused in the assault of Ahmed Hashim Abed and its alleged cover-up.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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