Marine should not be retried for 2006 Iraq crimes, lawyers say
October 31, 2014
This story has been updated.
CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — Charges refiled against a Marine who served six years for the 2006 killing of an Iraqi civilian should be dismissed, his civilian lawyer argued Thursday.
Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III was convicted of unpremeditated murder, larceny and making a false official statement in the man’s death and sentenced to 11 years in military prison in 2007, but his case was twice overturned, with the conviction thrown out because he was held in isolation for a week and denied access to a lawyer. He returned home to his family in Oceanside in 2013.
In January, the Marine Corps announced it would retry him for killing the Iraqi man in Hamdaniyah.
Coming on the heels of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and the killing of 24 civilians in Haditha by a different group of Marines, the Hamdaniyah killing provoked outrage in the United States and Iraq.
Six other enlisted Marines and one Navy corpsman were convicted in the same case but served no more than 18 months.
There is one more pre-trial hearing set for December before the January trial.
Hutchins’ lawyer, Chris Oprison, tried to have the prosecutors and judge, Navy Capt. Andrew Henderson, dismissed; argued that the case constitutes double jeopardy; and questioned witnesses about the decision to remove Hutchins from a job where he was thriving and move him to one unrelated to his military specialty.
Henderson declined to recuse himself from the case, and though the prosecution violated one of his orders by adding a new prosecutor to the team, he ruled that disqualifying both officers would delay justice.
Oprison also asked Henderson to rule that the trial team could make a government-funded trip to Hamdaniyah to talk to witnesses and pursue more evidence, saying he doesn’t believe Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents who investigated the killing did an adequate job.
“We don’t trust them,” Oprison said.
But Lt. Col. Gerald Boyle, deputy intelligence officer for U.S. Marine Forces Central Command, said in telephone testimony that such a trip would be “very, very difficult, if not impossible” because the area around Hamdaniyah is fiercely contested, with recent reports indicating Islamic State militants control 80 percent to 90 percent of Anbar province.
Henderson said he would issue a written ruling on the motion.
Hutchins worked at the Marksmanship Training Unit here in 2010 after his conviction was overturned the first time, and returned to the unit after it was overturned again in 2013. But Col. Christopher Miner, the officer in charge of Legal Services Support Section West, testified he thought it seemed strange for a Marine who had been charged with murder to be training other Marines on “how to employ their weapons.”
“It’s not a very good optic,” he said.
Miner called the commanding officer of Pendleton’s Headquarters and Support Battalion, which oversees the Marksmanship Training Unit, and told him it “probably wasn’t a good idea” to keep Hutchins there, he said.
The officer, now-retired Col. Michael Cordero and said he agreed with Minor’s concerns.
At the time, Cordero said, he was searching for a Marine to help turn his logistics unit around, so he moved Hutchins there.
Hutchins was “the highlight of the S-4 shop,” Cordero said, a “versatile, flexible and smart … superstar.”
After Cordero turned over command of H&S Battalion to Col. Joseph Craft, Hutchins briefly returned to the marksmanship unit but was soon sent back to the logistics shop.Oprison argued that the moves to the logistics unit penalized Hutchins, and coupled with poor treatment during incarceration — including 10 months in solitary confinement — constitute unduly harsh punishment.
Testimony about why Hutchins was moved, and who signed off on the moves, was varied and contradictory, but all four officers agreed that Hutchins is an exemplary Marine who will thrive in any job.
Maj. Adam Workman, one of the two prosecutors in the case, told the court there was never any intent to punish Hutchins with the job moves.