CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (Reuters) - Military prosecutors argued at the start of a California retrial on Tuesday of a U.S. Marine whose platoon killed an Iraqi civilian in 2006 that the killing was motivated by a desire to send a message to a resistant Iraqi village.
Sergeant Lawrence Hutchins III, 31, was initially convicted of murder, larceny and making false statements in 2007 over the killing of the civilian, a disabled former Iraqi police officer. His conviction was later overturned.
“This case is about a sergeant who came up with a plan to grab someone out of their bed in the middle of the night, ziptie him and kill him,” Major Samson Newsome told the jury in opening arguments.
Prosecutors say Hutchins was the leader of a squad of Marines who planned a mission aimed at stopping militants’ use of improvised bombs in the Iraqi village of Hamdania in the early morning hours of April 26, 2006.
When they couldn’t find the suspected bomber, witnesses said, they went to a nearby house and took a disabled former police officer who was not a suspect.
Witnesses said Hutchins and other Marines shot 52-year-old Hashim Ibrahim Awad, a father of 11 and grandfather of four, and placed an AK-47 and a shovel next to the corpse to suggest he had been planting a bomb.
The case touched off a furor in both the United States and Iraq.
Hutchins’s defense lawyer, Chris Oprison, said the case was flimsy and being pursued for political reasons, noting that the case proceeded after a marine corps massacre of civilians came to light.
“Sergeant Hutchins was out there to do his job, to execute his mission and to bring his men home alive,” Oprison said. “Political and diplomatic pressure to make a fall guy on this case, right after Haditha, was palpable.”
In 2007, a military jury found Hutchins guilty of unpremeditated murder and other crimes. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison, later reduced to 11. But a military court overturned his conviction in 2010, finding that a statement he gave while in custody should have been ruled inadmissible.
A military appeals court later reinstated his conviction then overturned it again in 2013 because Hutchins was denied access to a lawyer for a week early in the investigation.
Hutchins, who spent six years in confinement pending appeal, could be sentenced to serve out the remainder of his 11-year term.
Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Eric Walsh and Sandra Maler