Marine Sgt. Hutchins Enlists Civilian Attorney for War Crimes Retrial

Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins is accused of war crimes in the death of a retired Iraqi police officer

The attorney for a Marine set to be retried on war crimes is raising concerns about a possible breach in the defense’s case.

Armed with a new civilian defense attorney, Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III walked into Camp Pendleton court with his wife Thursday for a pre-trial hearing. He is accused of leading an eight-man squad that the military says kidnapped and killed a retired Iraqi policeman in April 2006.

During the discovery, defense lawyer Chris Oprison questioned military investigators who raided offices of defense counselors– including one of Hutchins’ military attorneys – in May.

The investigators testified that they went through the offices to look for case files for a cell phone they believed contained evidence for another case.

“What troubles me is that there was no controls over it,” Oprison said after the hearing. “Nobody sort of had the better sense to say, ‘You know what? We shouldn't be looking through defense counsel offices; we shouldn't be looking through files of high profile cases like Sgt. Hutchins and other cases,’ where it is eminently reasonable to assume you’re going to come across privileged and work product information.”

A Marine Corps review of the raid found the search did not compromise any of the cases.

This is the second time Hutchins faces charges stemming from the Iraqi policeman’s death in Hamdania. The sergeant was previously sentenced to 11 years in prison on the charges, but after spending seven years in the brig, the Marine Corps’ highest court reversed his conviction in June 2013.

The judge ruled Hutchins’ constitutional rights had been violated and that a confession Hutchins made in a trailer without legal representation should not have been considered evidence.

For this retrial, Hutchins fought for a civilian defense attorney who would not be influenced by the military, he said.

Oprison, a former Marine and military prosecutor based out of Washington, D.C., agreed to take on Hutchins’ case pro-bono.

“What this guy has been through after serving his country and what the Marine Corps is putting him through is pretty deplorable, that he was released from prison and they recharged him,” Oprison said. “His parents went through every bit of their life savings. He needed help.”

The attorney said his first priority is to discover if there are any facts or evidence the government has withheld.

"And frankly, the government needs to open up its files. We need to be able to make sure Sgt. Hutchins gets a full and fair vetting of all the facts," he said.

In future hearings, Oprison plans to question witnesses and try to get site visits in Iraq.

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