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Gov't asks court to reinstate Marine's murder conviction

Jul. 9, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Lawrence Hutchins
Marine Corps Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III of Plymouth, Mass., speaks in 2006 at Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base, Calif. The military's highest court overturned a murder conviction against Hutchins in one of the most significant cases against American troops from the Iraq war. (Denis Poroy / AP)
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SAN DIEGO — The government is asking the military’s highest court to reconsider its ruling last month that overturned a murder conviction of a Marine who has served more than half of his 11-year sentence for one of the biggest war crime cases to emerge from the Iraq war.

Military prosecutors argued in a motion filed to the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces on Monday that it should reinstate the conviction of Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III of Plymouth, Mass., who led an eight-man squad accused of kidnapping an Iraqi man from his home in April 2006, marching him to a ditch and shooting him to death in the village of Hamdania.

The judges on June 26 supported Hutchins’ claims that his rights were violated when he was held in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer for seven days during his 2006 interrogation in Iraq.

Prosecutors stated in their latest motion that Hutchins waived his right to counsel at the time and willfully told his side of the story without being badgered or coerced. They said the court should reconsider its ruling.

Hutchins’ lawyer Marine Maj. Babu Kaza on Tuesday filed an opposition to the government’s motion, asking the court to summarily dismiss it and to immediately order the military to release his client.

Kaza accused the prosecution of rehashing arguments already made in the case —arguments that the court has already considered and rejected.

Government prosecutors could not be immediately reached for comment Tuesday.

Last month’s ruling was seen as a major blow to the military’s prosecution of Iraqi war crimes.

Hutchins has said he thought the man — who turned out to be a retired policeman — was an insurgent leader. Prosecutors accused the squad of planting a shovel and AK-47 to make it appear he was an insurgent.

None of the other seven squad members served more than 18 months.

The move is the latest in a series of twists and turns for Hutchins, whose case was overturned once by a lower court three years ago.

The lower court ruled Hutchins’ 2007 trial was unfair because his lead defense lawyer quit shortly before it began. The military’s highest court disagreed on that point and reinstated Hutchins’ conviction in 2011, sending him back to the brig after eight months working at a desk job at California’s Camp Pendleton. The high court said at the time that the problem wasn’t grave enough to warrant throwing out the conviction.

But last month, the high court agreed with Hutchins’ latest petition.

Under the military justice system, Hutchins will remain in the brig until the court rules on the government’s motion, unless it orders the military to release him immediately.

The father of two issued a statement through his lawyer.

“The government’s motion yesterday requesting reconsideration from the court is frivolous, and is solely designed to stall my imminent release,” he said. “My family and I have been through so much.”

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