CAMP PENDLETON (AP) — A Marine sergeant was convicted Wednesday 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 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 defense 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 Thursday 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.
Hutchins was convicted of murder in the death of Awad. The six other Marines and a Navy corpsman in his squad served less than 18 months locked up.
All but one of his former seven squad mates has refused to testify again at his retrial. Many have said they now do not stand behind the 2006 statements they gave to military interrogators about how they marched a man from his home, bound him with zip ties and fired on him.
Maj. Samson Newsome argued for the prosecution that investigators spent hours at the crime scene and in the village but were misled by Hutchins after he lied to them, saying the shooting was justified because he had fired upon them and had been digging a hole for a roadside bomb. That cost military officers weeks in tracking down the crime, he said.
But investigators later secured the correct body, correct weapon and testimony from squad mates supporting allegations that Hutchins and his squad set out to find an Iraqi man to kill that April night, Newsome told jurors. Prosecutors said Hutchins shot the man three times in the face and then bragged to his squad mates about getting away with murder.
Newsome told the court his squad mates do not want to testify because they don’t want to “come in and talk about the disgusting thing they did.”
In their affidavits stating their refusal to testify, “they never claimed they didn’t murder the man,” 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 at that time overruled that decision, saying the problem was not grave enough to throw out the conviction.
Then he was released again for a few months after the highest court ruled interrogators had violated his rights by keeping him in solitary confinement.
Prosecutors argued that Hutchins waived his right to counsel at the time and willfully told his side of the story without coercion.