Marine in Iraq war crime case seeks clemency

/ Source: The Associated Press

A lawyer for a Marine convicted of murder in a major Iraq war crime case asked the Navy on Wednesday to grant his client clemency, arguing that freedom is warranted because of an error during the 2007 trial.

Attorney Maj. Babu Kaza said after a hearing at Camp Pendleton that it could take weeks for the Navy to make a final decision.

The request was the latest development in the case of Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III, 26, who was released last year after a lower military court threw out his conviction. The court ruled he received an unfair trial because his previous lawyer left the case only weeks before the court martial began.

The military's highest court disagreed and said the error was not serious enough to warrant a new trial. That court reinstated the conviction, and the Marine Corps sent Hutchins back to the brig last month to complete his 11-year sentence after he spent eight months working at Camp Pendleton at a desk job.

Kaza told the Naval Clemency and Parole Board during a 30-minute hearing Wednesday that the error was enough to grant clemency.

The board in 2009 noted that Hutchins' sentence was unjustifiably severe compared to other war crime cases but said it was likely due to his perceived lack of remorse at his trial.

In a letter given to the board Wednesday, Hutchins said he is deeply sorry for what happened and suffered nightmares and anxiety because of the death.

Hutchins proved to be an outstanding Marine during his release and deserves to be freed, Kaza added. He also argued that Hutchins' family has suffered enough. Hutchins has a 6-year-old daughter and pregnant wife.

Hutchins was convicted after leading an eight-man squad accused of kidnapping 52-year-old Hashim Ibrahim Awad from his home in April 2006 then marching him to a ditch and fatally shooting him. The killing took place in Hamdania.

Hutchins spent nearly four years in prison before being released. Others who were charged served less than 18 months.

Hutchins said he was not with his squad at the time. He said they told him they had killed an insurgent leader, and he did not learn the person was an unarmed Iraqi until after the investigation.