CAMP PENDLETON, California (Reuters) - A U.S. Marine squad leader who boasted to his men they had “got away with murder” after kidnapping and killing an Iraqi grandfather was sentenced on Friday to 15 years in prison.
A military jury at Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base issued the sentence, along with a reprimand and dishonorable discharge, after finding Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III guilty of unpremeditated murder, larceny and other crimes on Thursday.
His wife and mother sobbed after hearing the sentence. Hutchins, wearing a khaki short-sleeve shirt and dark green trousers, showed no emotion, although at one point he lowered his head to the table.
His 2-year-old daughter was also in the courtroom. Hutchins, 23, was allowed to spend some time with his family before guards took him to a military brig.
The sentence concluded the trials of seven U.S. Marines and a Navy medic involved in the April 2006 incident in Hamdania, Iraq, in which they were seeking a terrorism suspect and grabbed his neighbor during the night when they could not find him.
Hutchins, of Plymouth, Massachusetts, and another Marine shot Hashim Ibrahim Awad, 52, a father of 11 and grandfather of four, according to witnesses. Then the unit set an AK-47 assault rifle and shovel next to the corpse to suggest he had been an insurgent planting a bomb, they said.
Witnesses said Hutchins congratulated his squad after the crime, saying, “We just got away with murder.” One said the men had been inspired by the 1999 movie “The Boondock Saints,” about Boston vigilantes killing mobsters.
The prosecution had sought to convict him of premeditated murder, which would have brought a sentence of life in prison, and witnesses testified that Hutchins led the plot.
The sudden changing of the target to Awad may have made the jury see the crime as unpremeditated.
Seven others had already been convicted in the case, one in a series in which U.S. troops have been accused of abusing or killing Iraqi civilians. They received sentences of between no additional time in prison and eight years behind bars.
Only Hutchins was convicted of murder.
The other shooter was convicted by a jury last month of conspiracy to murder and did not receive additional time in prison, surprising some legal experts.
Also on Friday, a separate military jury sentenced Cpl. Marshall Magincalda to 448 days in prison after he was found guilty of conspiracy in the crime.
The punishment means Magincalda was to be released from the brig on Friday because he has spent the last 450 days in detention.
In a brief statement to the jury on Thursday, Hutchins expressed no remorse.
Hutchins’ attorney, Richard Brannon, ascribed the actions of Hutchins and his men to “a failure of command,” alluding to charges their platoon leader’s rough handling of some detainees had sent the wrong message to Marines.
Brannon told the jury that Hutchins was an outstanding Marine who led his infantry squad in a dangerous area where troops had to battle stress and attacks from insurgents.
“They were under fire,” Brannon said. “It does impact you.”