U.S. military court overturns Marine's conviction in Iraqi's death

LOS ANGELES Thu Jun 27, 2013 8:08am EDT

U.S. Marine Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III (back R) arrives with his civilian defence counsel J. Richardson Brannon (front R) and military defence counsel Lt Col Joseph S. Smith (front L) and Captain Alan Bass for his Article 32 Investigation hearing at Camp Pendleton, California in this October 16, 2006 file photo. REUTERS/Mike Blake

U.S. Marine Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III (back R) arrives with his civilian defence counsel J. Richardson Brannon (front R) and military defence counsel Lt Col Joseph S. Smith (front L) and Captain Alan Bass for his Article 32 Investigation hearing at Camp Pendleton, California in this October 16, 2006 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Mike Blake

Related Topics

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The highest U.S. military appeals court on Wednesday overturned the murder conviction of a Marine sergeant found guilty in 2007 of leading a squad in Iraq that was accused of killing a civilian they had captured, bound and gagged.

Three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces found Sergeant Lawrence Hutchins gave a statement to a U.S. Navy investigator while in custody that should have been ruled inadmissible and tainted his court-martial.

The case stems from the 2006 death in Hamdania, Iraq, of Hashim Ibrahim Awad, 52, a father of 11 and grandfather of four.

In 2007, a court-martial at Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base north of San Diego sentenced Hutchins to 15 years in military prison after finding him guilty of unpremeditated murder, larceny and other crimes.

Hutchins was the leader of a squad that went on a mission aimed at stopping militants' use of improvised explosive devices. Witnesses had testified that Hutchins and another Marine shot Awad and placed an AK-47 and a shovel next to the corpse to suggest he had been planting a bomb.

Earlier, Awad had been bound and gagged at another location, according to a finding by a lower court of appeal for the military.

In its ruling on Wednesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces said that in May 2006, a Navy investigator began to question Hutchins but he invoked his right to an attorney and was put under guard in a trailer.

Hutchins was not allowed to call a lawyer and no attorney was provided to him, according to the ruling written by Judge Charles Erdmann. Seven days later, the investigator entered the trailer and asked to search Hutchins' belongings and the sergeant said he wanted to talk, the ruling states.

The next day, Hutchins provided a written confession, the ruling stated.

The court found that after Hutchins requested an attorney the investigator had initiated the conversation - by coming back for a search. That led to Hutchins' admission and the judge and two colleagues found that it violated his constitutional right to remain silent.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces found "it was an error for the military judge to admit the statement made by Hutchins," which was used at his court-martial.

"Therefore, notwithstanding the other evidence of Hutchins' guilt, there is a reasonable likelihood that the statement contributed to the verdict," the court ruled.

A spokesman for Camp Pendleton where the 2007 court-martial was held said he could not comment on whether Hutchins might soon be released from custody.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces sent the case to a military judge advocate general for referral to an "appropriate convening authority who may authorize a rehearing."

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; editing by Christopher Wilson)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (4)
KNaiem wrote:
This is really sick

Jun 27, 2013 8:21am EDT  --  Report as abuse
WhyMeLord wrote:
Talk about protecting “one of their own”; another black-eye for the US.

Jun 27, 2013 11:05am EDT  --  Report as abuse
MikeBee wrote:
If this is the “rule of law” we are bringing to Iraq, is it any wonder they want us and our “democracy” gone?

Jun 27, 2013 10:02pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.