CAMP PENDLETON (AP) — A Marine sergeant could be locked up yet again after being convicted a second time of killing an Iraqi civilian nearly a decade ago in one of the military's longest-running war crime cases.
Lawrence Hutchins III thought he had won his freedom after two military courts threw out his murder conviction from a 2007 trial because of legal errors, but the military justice system allowed the Navy to retry the case.
A jury of three enlisted men and three officers returned a guilty verdict Wednesday against Hutchins for the 2006 killing of a 52-year-old Iraqi policeman in the village of Hamdania.
Hutchins was allowed to go home with his wife, Reyna Hutchins, who sobbed when the verdict was read. He was to return Thursday for sentencing, when he will learn if the judge will credit him for the nearly seven years he has already served of an 11-year sentence.
The judge could sentence him to time served, to complete his previous term or some other possibility.
"We are obviously disappointed with the outcome," defense attorney Christopher Oprison said in a statement. "We are now focused on putting on the strongest sentencing case possible to ensure Sgt. Hutchins receives no further punishment. He and his family have been punished enough."
Hutchins of Plymouth, Massachusetts, was convicted of unpremeditated murder, conspiracy and larceny. Prosecutors say he and his squad planted a stolen AK-47 and shovel near the body to make the victim appear to have been an insurgent. They say Hutchins shot the man three times in the face and then bragged to his squad mates about how they got away with murder.
The defense argued the military inquiry was shoddy and did not support allegations that Hutchins and his squad set out to kill Hashim Ibrahim Awad because he was an Iraqi man.
All but one of his squad mates refused to testify again at his retrial. Many have said they now do not stand behind the 2006 statements they gave to military interrogators. In those statements, some of them said the man was marched from his home and bound with zip ties before being fatally shot.
"They should bring forth competent evidence instead of just a rehash," Hutchins' attorney told the jury during closing arguments.
The six other Marines and a Navy corpsman in the squad served less than 18 months.
Maj. Samson Newsome, arguing for the prosecution, told jurors that investigators spent hours at the scene and in the village but did not know a crime was committed because Hutchins lied to them, saying the shooting was justified because the Iraqi man had fired on the Marines and had been digging a hole for a roadside bomb.
That cost military officers weeks in tracking down the crime, he said. After Iraqis reported the crime, investigators secured the body, weapon and testimony from the squad, Newsome said.
Hutchins has been in and out of the brig because of the rulings.
He was released briefly after a lower court overturned Hutchins' conviction in 2010, ruling his trial in 2007 was unfair because his lead defense lawyer quit shortly before it began. But the military's highest court overruled that decision, saying the problem was not grave enough to throw out the conviction.
Hutchins was released again after the highest court ruled in 2013 that interrogators had violated his rights by keeping him in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer for seven days.
Prosecutors argued that Hutchins waived his right to counsel at the time and willfully told his side of the story without coercion.
Oprison, the defense attorney, said the case likely was not over despite the new conviction.
"I have no doubt this conviction will be reversed on appeal and return for yet another trial which we will gladly take," Oprison's statement said.
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