The military’s highest court threw out the 2007 murder conviction of a U.S. Marine, ruling his constitutional rights were violated when he was held in solitary confinement in Iraq for seven days without access to an attorney.
On Aug. 2, 2007, Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III was found guilty of murder, conspiracy to commit murder, making false official statements and larceny. The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces threw out the conviction after Hutchins served about half of his 11-year sentence.
Dubbed the “Hamdania incident,” Hutchins and other U.S. Marines were involved in the shooting death of an Iraqi man in Al Hamdania, west of Baghdad. The Naval Criminal Investigative service uncovered evidence of the kidnapping and murder of Hashim Gowad, the cousin of a suspected insurgent. Hutchins was convicted of leading eight Marines in the kidnapping and killing of Gowad. He claimed he thought Gowad was an insurgent leader. The other convicted Marines took plea deals and served no more than 18 months.
The ruling that Hutchins' 2006 detainment and interrogation violated his Fifth Amendment rights is a major blow to the military’s prosecution of war crimes. The murder was one of the most serious crimes that took place in Iraq.
"For these very serious allegations of conduct that one would think of as war crimes, the military justice system has not performed very well in the past couple decades," said David Glazier, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and a former Navy officer.
"Here this guy's conviction is overturned on the basis that he was mistreated by the government during his initial apprehension, and yet he's already served five years in prison," Glazier said. "If the conviction was unjust in the first place, it's kind of appalling it's taken the military justice system five years to resolve it."
His attorney, Babu Kaza, expects Hutchins will be released in the next few days.
"Sgt. Hutchins and his family have suffered enough with this case, and it's time for this to be over," Kaza said. "Enough is enough."
"Accordingly, under the circumstances of this case, it was error for the military judge to admit the statement made by Hutchins on May 19, 2006," the judges concluded in their ruling.
The Navy is able to appeal the ruling with the Supreme Court or send the case to convening authority, which could order a retrial.