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Marine convicted of killing Iraqi gets no additional prison time

Jury gives Marine sergeant convicted of killing Iraqi man a bad-conduct discharge, no additional prison time

A Marine jury Thursday sentenced a Marine sergeant to a bad-conduct discharge but no additional prison time for killing an unarmed Iraqi civilian in 2006.

Prosecutors had asked jurors at the retrial of Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins to sentence him to a dishonorable discharge and additional prison time.

Hutchins, 31, had served more than seven years of an 11-year sentence before his 2007 conviction was overturned and the case sent back for retrial.

Hutchins' wife, Reyna, burst into tears of relief at the sentencing by the six-Marine jury. The jury decided that "time served" behind bars was sufficient.

The jury took less than two hours to reach its sentencing decision. The day's session included emotional testimony by Hutchins' father, mother, wife and their 10-year-old daughter asking for leniency.

When his daughter testified, Hutchins wept openly and placed his head on the defense table. Jurors listened intently.

Tearfully, Kylie Hutchins talked about missing her father desperately when he was in prison and then the brig and being overjoyed when he returned home after the appeals court overturned his 2007 conviction.

The brig at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, she said, "was this big house and it was very sad."

When her father returned home, she said, "I remember running as fast as I could and jumping into his arms and saying 'I love you' and he swung me around."

With her father home, "we're finally a whole family and not a missing puzzle part."

Hutchins, his wife, and their three children live at Camp Pendleton, where he has been assigned since being released in 2013 to await retrial.

The lead prosecutor, Maj. Adam Workman, told jurors that what Hutchins did represented a “wholesale abandonment of moral prowess."

“When we abandon that moral authority we are no better than our enemy,” Workman said.

The maximum additional time behind bars would have been a little less than four years given the time he had spent at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., prison and the Miramar brig.

On Wednesday, the Marine jury — three officers and three senior enlisted personnel — found Hutchins guilty of the same charge that he was convicted of in 2007: unpremeditated murder in the shooting death of an unarmed civilian who was dragged from his home, bound and riddled with bullets. The killing occured in Hamandiya, west of Baghdad.

Hutchins' attorney, Christopher Oprison, had argued to jurors that Hutchins and other members of the so-called Pendleton 8 were "framed" by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

In pretrial motions, he said Hutchins could not get a fair trial because of comments made by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.

Although disappointed by the guilty verdict, Oprison said late Thursday that he was pleased that the same jury decided to sentence his client to "time served."

"He's going home," Oprison told reporters. "We wanted him home for Father's Day and now he is."

Hutchins' 2007 conviction was set aside twice by an appellate court, and Wednesday's guilty verdict came after a retrial.

In a 90-minute unsworn presentation to the jury Thursday, Hutchins talked of the brutalizing effect of experiencing the war in Iraq in 2006. He said he came to believe that all Iraqis were either insurgents or insurgent sympathizers.

"I was a different man at this location, at this time, after what I had seen," he said, haltingly. "I had ice in my veins."

In 2007, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison, later reduced to 11 years.

According to prosecutors, Hutchins, as squad leader, devised a plan for the squad to capture a suspected insurgent and kill him as an example to other Iraqis not to attack Americans. When they could not find him, prosecutors said, they went next door and captured a 52-year-old retired police officer on April 26, 2006.

Although it is difficult to determine cause-and-effect, attacks against U.S. troops in Hamandiya declined after the April 26 killing, leading some Marines to believe the incident, while brutal and illegal, saved American lives.

"As soon as this happened, the attacks died down," Staff Sgt. Saul Lopez testified Thursday. "Everything was really quiet."

Lopez, who served with Hutchins but was not part of the alleged April 26, 2006, conspiracy, said young Marines trusted Hutchins, as a squad leader, to help them survive.

"He loved his Marines and we loved him for that," Lopez said. "The only reason I know, as a point man, that I'd leave Iraq alive is because I knew Sgt. Hutchins was taking care of us."

During Hutchins' retrial, six former squad members refused to testify against Hutchins, citing their 5th Amendment rights against self-incrimination. The six signed affidavits disavowing comments made during their courts martial, saying it was coerced by prosecutors and the NCIS.

A seventh squad member testified at the retrial, telling jurors that after the Iraqi was killed, Hutchins told the squad, "Gents, congratulations, we just got away with murder."

Of eight squad members convicted for the April 26 incident, Hutchins received the longest sentence. None of the others served more than 18 months in the brig.

The retrial jury's verdict and sentence will be reviewed by Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr., commander of the U.S. Marine Force's Central Command. 

McKenzie, as the convening authority of the court martial, has the authority to overrule the bad-conduct discharge but not to reject the "time served" provision of the sentencing.

The jury also ordered Hutchins busted in rank, which could force him to repay $52,000 in pay and housing allowances. McKenzie could overrule or modify that portion of the sentencing.

Hutchins' defense attorney said he plans to appeal the conviction because of "hostile" rulings by the judge.

Twitter: @LATsandiego

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

7:04 p.m.: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

5:56 p.m.: This article was updated with the jury's sentencing decision.

7:38 a.m.: This article was updated with Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins' attorney saying he will file an appeal.

The first version of this article was published at 7:28 a.m.

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