Local Marine Goes Back to Court in War Crimes Case

Monday, Jun 7, 2010  |  Updated 11:58 AM PDT
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Local Marine Goes Back to Court in War Crimes Case

North County Times

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The government is appealing the overturning of a Camp Pendleton Marine's murder conviction in a major Iraqi war crimes case.

It was the only murder conviction the U.S. government had gotten in one of the highest-profile criminal cases against U.S. troops to arise out of the war in Iraq.

Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III led a squad that included six Marines and one Navy corpsman who were also charged in connection with the April 2006 murder of Hashim Ibrahim Awad, 52, in the village of Hamdania.

The 26-year-old Marine was sentenced to 11 years.

The Navy Judge Advocate General's Corps announced Monday that it will send the Hutchins' case to the U.S. Court of Appeals of the Armed Forces.

That court can either affirm or reverse the April ruling of the U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals. The criminal appeals court overturned Hutchins' conviction, saying he was not given a fair trial because a judge allowed his lead defense attorney to leave shortly before his 2007 trial.

Thad Coakley

, a former

Marine Corps

judge advocate, predicted the government's appeal.   

 

"When you have a serious allegation that at least was substantiated at one point that this squad leader of Marines and a Navy corpsman kidnapped and executed an Iraqi detainee -- which is essentially murder -- if you don't pursue that, how do you show that you're holding Marines to a standard of accountability?" he said.
     
Coakley added that the court's "opinion makes no comment and therefore no judgment on the validity of the facts associated with this case. This opinion is focused upon a procedural error and a failure to maintain an attorney-client relationship."
     
Prosecutors said Hutchins was on a mission to find an insurgent and when his squad failed to find the suspect at his home, the military men went to a nearby house and pulled out Awad, killed him and then planted an AK-47 and shovel to make Awad look like an insurgent planting a bomb.      
     
Navy corpsman Petty Officer 3rd Class Melson J. Bacos of Franklin, Wis., pleaded guilty to kidnapping, conspiracy to kidnap and making false official statements. Marine Lance Cpl. John J. Jodka III, of Encinitas, Calif., pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and conspiracy to obstruct justice.
     
Marine Lance Cpl. Tyler A. Jackson, of Tracy, Calif., pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Marine Lance Cpl. Jerry E. Shumate Jr., of Matlock, Wash., pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and conspiracy to obstruct justice.
     
All will get either an honorable or general discharge. They have no recourse to appeal.
     
Three other defendants left the military after their prison terms ended.
 

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