SAN DIEGO (AP) — The U.S. Marine Corps released a sergeant Friday whose murder conviction was overturned in a major blow to the military’s prosecution of Iraq war crimes.
Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III, of Plymouth, Mass., walked out of the brig at the Marine Corps Miramar Air Station in San Diego after having served more than half of his 11-year sentence. “The emotions I am feeling right now are hard to describe,” Hutchins said in a statement issued through his attorney. “I am overcome. This is all I ever wanted.”
Once his release paperwork was processed, Hutchins was to be transported by Marine Corps officials to Camp Pendleton, where he would check in to his new unit at the base’s headquarters, said Marine Corps spokesman Lt. Col. Joseph Kloppel.
Hutchins led an eight-man squad accused of kidnapping an Iraqi man from his home in April 2006, marching him to a ditch and shooting him to death in the village of Hamdania. Hutchins has said he thought the man — who turned out to be a retired policeman — was an insurgent leader.
None of the other seven squad members served more than 18 months. The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces overturned Hutchins’ conviction on June 26, supporting his claims that his rights were violated when he was held in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer for seven days during his 2006 interrogation in Iraq.
The move was the latest in a series of twists for Hutchins, whose case was overturned once by a lower court three years ago only to be reinstated in 2011 by the same court that agreed with his latest petition.
Under the military justice system, Hutchins could not be freed until the court ruled on a Navy motion in response to the June 26 decision. Prosecutors asked the court to reconsider its decision to toss out the conviction, saying Hutchins waived his right to counsel at the time and willfully told his side of the story without coercion.
The court Thursday denied that request and issued a mandate that he be released. The case, however, is not closed. The Navy can order the case be retried or prosecutors can appeal to the Supreme Court.
The Navy issued a statement Friday saying it was exploring those options and a decision is expected next month. Kloppel said the Camp Pendleton unit Hutchins will be assigned to will determine his job assignment.
Hutchins’ military attorney, Maj. Babu Kaza, said Hutchins will live off base in nearby Oceanside with his wife and two children.