Camp Pendleton (US), Jun 18: A Marine sergeant has been convicted of murdering an Iraqi civilian in 2006, the second time a military jury has returned a guilty verdict in what has become one of the most complicated and long-running criminal cases from the Iraq War.
The jury of three enlisted men and three military officers found Sgt Lawrence Hutchins III guilty yesterday of unpremeditated murder. His wife, Reyna Hutchins, sobbed as the verdict was read. He embraced and kissed her before he left the courtroom.
The jury also found him guilty of conspiracy and larceny because prosecutors say he stole the AK-47 and the shovel that were planted near the body during the April 26, 2006, incident. But he was found not guilty of falsifying an official statement.
The defence argued the military inquiry was shoddy and did not support the allegations that Hutchins and his squad killed 52-year-old Hashim Ibrahim Awad from the village of Hamdania, then planted the AK-47 to make it look like the victim was an insurgent.
"You don't have to convict Sgt Hutchins of anything," Attorney Christopher Oprison, who represented Hutchins, said during closing arguments. Hutchins, of Plymouth, Massachusetts, was allowed to go home but will return today for sentencing, when he will learn if the judge will credit him for the seven years he already served of an 11-year sentence.
Under military law, unpremeditated murder is a lesser charge than premeditated murder and means Hutchins can receive any sentence short of the death penalty. Hutchins, his attorney and the Marine Corps all declined to comment after the verdict.
Hutchins had his conviction overturned twice by military courts after rulings that there were errors in the handling of his case. Under the military justice system, the Navy was allowed to order his case to be retried. The military's highest court, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, ruled in 2013 that Navy interrogators in Iraq at the time violated his rights by holding him in solitary confinement for seven days without access to a lawyer.