Alleged Iraq War Criminal Released From Confinement Pending Appeal


A Marine Corps sergeant who is accused in one of the Iraq war’s biggest war crimes cases has been released from custody.

Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III is accused of having led a squad of seven troops who killed an unarmed, 52-year-old Iraqi man after dragging him out of his home in the village of Hamdania. The men then planted an AK-47 and a shovel near Hashim Ibrahim Awad’s body, in order to make it appear as though he was an insurgent. Hutchins has said that he was not with his squad, and that he never learned that Awad was not an insurgent until after an investigation into the 2006 killing had taken place.

Hutchins, who stood trial in 2007, was originally sentenced to 14 years, but that was later reduced to 11 years. In April, however, the U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals in Washington ruled that he had not been given a fair trial, since his lead defense lawyer left the case just before the trial began. They threw out his murder conviction.

The Navy is appealing that decision, and prosecutors had wanted Hutchins to remain in confinement while the appeals were ongoing, but in a surprise decision, a judge released him from the brig at Camp Pendleton on Monday, after hearing arguments from his attorney that the sergeant is a family man who does not pose a flight risk. Hutchins called his family and his 5-year-old daughter, Kylie, before going to a Taco Bell with his lawyer.

There are several options that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces must now consider in Hutchins’s case. It can reverse the ruling of the lower court, and reinstate the conviction and the sentence—in which case the Marine could appeal to the military’s supreme court. The appellate court could also opt to affirm the ruling and send the case to Camp Pendleton, for a new trial. Hutchins would get credit for time served if he is again convicted and sentenced. A third option would be to keep the conviction, but order a new sentencing hearing.

Both sides will make their argument to the higher court this fall; it could take until 2011 before that court reaches a decision in the matter.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, speaking with the Marine Corps Times last year, said that he feels Hutchins was responsible for orchestrating the murder and the ensuing cover-up, and that he should therefore serve out his entire sentence.


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