A military appeals court Wednesday tossed out the high-profile conviction of a Marine from Camp Pendleton for the killing of an unarmed Iraqi man in 2006 in Hamandiya, west of Baghdad.
The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces ruled that Larry Hutchins was improperly denied a lawyer when investigators in Iraq first began to question him about the killing. He was put in solitary confinement for seven days, according to his lawyer, Babu Kaza.
"At that point he broke and informed NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigative Service) that he would give them what they wanted," Kaza said.
The government could appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, or the Marine Corps could seek a new trial.
But Kaza believes Hutchins will instead be freed soon from the brig at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego.
He has served six years of an 11-year sentence for unpremeditated murder, first at the prison at Ft. Leavenworth, Kans., and then at the Miramar brig to be near his family in Oceanside.
Seven enlisted Marines and one Navy corpsman from Camp Pendleton were convicted at court-martial in the Hamandiya killing. As the squad leader, a sergeant, Hutchins received the longest sentence. All of the others are now freed; none served more than 18 months.
The plan to drag an unarmed Iraqi from his home and kill him was developed as a warning to other Iraqis not to attack Marines with sniper shots or buried roadside bombs. In the months after the killing of the 52-year-old retired Iraqi police officer, attacks on Marines in the region dropped.
Kaza said that after he informed Hutchins of the ruling, he said, "I can"t wait to be home with my wife and kids."
Bing West, former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, author of books about Marines in combt in Iraq and Afghanistan, said the military should drop the case and let Hutchins go free.
"In Iraq, Sgt. Hutchins faced a morally agonizing choice after a fellow Marine was killed by an unidentified bomber," West said. "He and his squad struck back blindly. For that wrongful act, he has spent seven years in the brig.
"To subject him and his family to yet one more trial would be cruelty without reason. Enough is enough. Military justice has worked."