CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (AP) — A Marine Corps squad leader was convicted yesterday of murdering an Iraqi man during a frustrated search for an insurgent.
Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III, 23, also was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, making a false official statement and larceny. He was acquitted of kidnapping, assault and housebreaking.
Hutchins, of Plymouth, Mass., could be sentenced to life in prison without parole. He was charged with premeditated murder, but the military jury struck the premeditation element from the verdict.
Hutchins stood rigidly and stared straight ahead in the silent courtroom as the verdict was read. A few minutes later, he answered a procedural question with a loud and clear, “Yes, sir.”
Prosecutors said that during a nighttime patrol in Hamdania, Iraq, in April 2006, Hutchins‘ squad hatched a plan to kidnap an insurgency suspect from his house and kill him. When they couldn’t find him, they instead kidnapped a man from a neighboring house, dragged him to a hole and shot him.
Authorities previously identified the man as Hashim Ibrahim Awad, 52, but the charging documents for Hutchins refer to the victim as an “unknown Iraqi male.” Defense attorneys said prosecutors could not conclusively identify the body.
Prosecutors said squad members tried to cover up the killing by planting a shovel and an AK-47 by his body to make it look like he was an insurgent planting a bomb.
Several witnesses testified that the plot was born out of frustration after insurgency suspects kept evading prosecution.
The squad was pulled from the battlefield after the slaying.
Attorneys for Hutchins argued that he participated in the plot because his officers set a poor leadership example and gave approval for Marines to use violence in capturing and interrogating insurgency suspects.
In another base courtroom, a sentencing hearing was under way for a member of the squad, convicted Wednesday of conspiracy and lesser crimes but acquitted of premeditated murder and kidnapping.
Cpl. Marshall Magincalda, 24, of Manteca, faced up to life in prison. He also was found guilty of larceny and housebreaking, and cleared of making a false official statement.
Cpl. Magincalda was not accused of firing any shots, but was charged with murder for participating in the plot.
A military psychiatrist testified that Cpl. Magincalda developed post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression as a result of combat.
“He was essentially a broken shell,” Dr. Jennifer Morse said. “This was a young man who was gone, who was clearly haunted by his memories.”