By Brett Gillin
Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins is currently undergoing his third retrial for a killing that happened back in 2006. Over the weekend, this retrial took an interesting turn when news broke that five witnesses, four former Marines and a former Navy corpsman, will not be testifying against Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins in this retrial. This could be a damaging blow to the prosecution.
According to this article in the Los Angeles Times, all five of the would-be witnesses have already been convicted in the killing which Hutchins is being retried for. In the official court martial last week, which took place at Camp Pendleton, each of the five former Marines and Navy corpsman plead the 5th amendment in order to not incriminate themselves, thereby refusing to testify against Hutchins.
While these actions would make perfect sense to almost everyone if the men faced perjury charges, the fact that prosecutors offered immunity from prosecution for each person in exchange for their testimony paints a different picture on their silence.
The crime that the men were previously convicted on, and the one that Hutchins is facing once again, has come to be known as the “Hamdania Incident.” On April 26, 2006 at around 2:00 AM, the Marines allegedly broke into a house, abducted a sleeping man from that house, bound his hands and forced him to walk back to the site of an earlier insurgent ambush. It was at this point that the Marines allegedly forced the man to get into a hole created by an IED blast.
Then, according to charges, some of the Marines fired their rifles at the man, while others discharged stolen AK-47s into the air to simulate a firefight. The Marines then allegedly moved the spent AK-47 casings and one of the AK-47s near the man’s body and left him there to be discovered the next morning by local police.
Further details emerged from the court martial, alleging that the initial shots did not kill the 52-year-old Iraqi man. Instead, Sgt. Hutchins stood over a gravely wounded man and shot him in the face three times. Maj. Samson Newsome described the shots as ones that “blew up the back of his skull,” during the opening statements to the jury.
Two previous times, Hutchins has been found guilty of these crimes, but each conviction has been overturned. According to court records, each conviction has been at least partially overturned due to interrogators violating Hutchins’ rights and coercing statements from the other five witnesses.
While Hutchins has already served more than half of his original 11-year sentence, this retrial could mean the difference between him walking free or spending the next 6 years behind bars. Prosecutors are expected to have wrapped their case up by today, and have already won a minor victory when the judge allowed transcripts of the five squad members’ original confessions, despite the fact that man contend those confessions were coerced.
For his part, Hutchins has gone on the record saying that he is not guilty of doing anything other than the job he was meant to do: “destroy the enemy and bring his Marines home alive.”
Once the defense has rested their case, jurors will vote on whether to convict or not, then, if convicted, sentence him to either time-served, the rest of his sentence, or something between those options.