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United States of America v. Lawrence G. Hutchins III

Court Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, Washington D.C., United States
Case number NMCCA 200800393
Decision title Published Opinion of the Court
Decision date 22 April 2010
  • United States of America
  • Lawrence G. Hutchins III
Other names
  • Hamdania incident case
Categories War crimes
Keywords conspiracy to commit murder, court martial, kidnapping, Murder
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Lawrence G. Hutchins III was a U.S. Marine Sergeant and a squad leader of a unit conducting counterinsurgency operations. Together with seven other U.S. Marines, they were accused of having killed Iraqi war veteran Hashim Ibrahim Awad on 26 April 2006.

The Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the conviction due to lack of a fair trial when one of Hutchins’ primary attorneys departed shortly before the court-martial began. Hutchins was once more freed on appeal on 26 June 2013 when the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces threw out the convictions entered against him, after he has served half of his 11-year sentence. On 28 January 2014 the commanding general of the U.S. Marine Corps moved for third retrial “due to the seriousness of the charges and the amount of evidence that had been compiled through investigations.”

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Procedural history

US Marine Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins, III was sentenced by a military jury in Camp Pendleton, California, to 15 years in prison for his role in the April 2006 kidnapping and murder of Iraqi civilian Hashim Ibrahim Awad in Al Hamdania. Hutchins was convicted of murder, conspiracy to commit murder, making a false official statement and larceny but acquitted on charges of kidnapping, assault and housebreaking. He was the first Marine convicted of murder in connection to the Hamdania incident. See Press Release here.

His sentence was later reduced to 11 years. The other members from the squad were convicted of lesser charges: Cpl. Marshall Magincalda, Cpl. Trent Thomas, Lance Cpl. Robert Pennington, Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Melson Bacos, Lance Cpl. Jerry Shumate Jr., Pfc. John Jodka and Lance Cpl. Tyler Jackson. None spent more than 18 months in jail.

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Related developments

On 26 June 2013, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces threw out the conviction of Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins after he has served half of his 11-year sentence. The Court of Appeals found that Hutchins had been detained and interrogated improperly by the Naval Criminal Investigative Services.

On 28 January 2014, the US Marine Corps decided to retry the case of Lawrence Hutchins for the third time, overturned twice by military courts in the last three years. The reason behind their decision was the seriousness of the alleged crime.

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Legally relevant facts

Lawrence G. Hutchins III was a Sergeant with the United States Marines. He was a squad leader of a counterinsurgency unit in 2006 when seven Marines and a Navy hospital corpsman from the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment plotted to capture and kill Saleh Gowad, an insurgent leader. On 26 April 2006 in Al Hamdania, a small village west of Baghdad near Abu Ghraib, the squad snatched a man from his bed, shot him in a ditch and planted an AK-47 and a shovel at the scene to appear as if he were planting an improvised explosive device. Nevertheless, it was later discovered that they had grabbed another man at random, the disabled 52-year-old war veteran Hashim Ibrahim Awad.

Even though Hutchins maintained that he thought they killed the insurgent leader, the court considered it a murder in 2007 because the rules of engagement of the squad did not permit summary execution of an insurgent posing no immediate threat.

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Core legal questions

  • Did the Military Judge err when he refused to instruct the members that they could consider the impact of the operational environment on the appellant’s state of mind and perception for the charge of voluntary manslaughter, where appellant was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, acute sleep deprivation, was in a state of constant provocation, and his chain of command created a climate of acceptance towards vigilantism and abuse of suspected insurgents?
  • Did the Military Judge err when he denied the Defense challenge for cause against a member who had been in charge of pre-deployment urban warfare training for the appellant and his alleged co-conspirators, where the question of appropriate tactics in urban warfare was an essential issue at trial?
  • Whether the military judge erred when he denied the Defense motion to suppress the appellant’s confession, where the appellant had previously terminated an interrogation and requested the assistance of counsel, but was instead kept in solitary confinement for seven days without access to counsel and then re-interrogated?
  • Was the appellant’s release of Captain Bass from further representation valid, and if not, did good cause exist for terminating the attorney-client relationship in the absence of release? If a valid release or good cause does not exist, what is the prejudice to appellant?
  • Did the Military Judge err by conducting a closed session of court when the government had not asserted a claim of privilege? If so, what is the prejudice to the appellant?

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Specific legal rules and provisions

Title 10 of Chapter 47 of the U.S. Code Chapter 47: Uniform Code of Military Justice:

  • Section 881, article 81 (conspiracy)
  • Section 907, article 107 (false official statements)
  • Section 918, article 118 (murder)
  • Section 921, article 121 (larceny and wrongful appropriation)
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Court's holding and analysis

The Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the conviction due to lack of a fair trial. In an 8-1 decision, it ruled that the departure of one of Hutchins’ primary attorneys shortly before the court-martial began resulted in an unfair trial. The Court found that the Military Judge has effectively severed the attorney-client relationship between Captain Bass and the appellant (p. 7), but it could find no good cause for the severance of this relationship. (p. 8) The Court of Criminal Appeals concluded by placing the burden of proof on the Government and presuming prejudice, which it found to be very fact-specific. (p. 13) The ruling made it possible for Hutchins to be restored to his prior rank of U.S. Marine Cpl., which was reduced to private following his conviction.

Senior Judges Maksym and Booker issued concurring opinions, Judge Beal joining the one issued by Judge Maksym.

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Instruments cited

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Additional materials