- Associated Press - Thursday, October 30, 2014

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (AP) - Defense lawyers called a military judge biased and unfair on Thursday and asked him to remove himself from the case of a Marine being retried on a murder charge in a major Iraq war crime case.

The judge, Marine Capt. Andrew Henderson, rejected the claims during a hearing for Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III at Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego.

The Marine Corps re-charged Hutchins in the 2006 killing of an unarmed Iraqi policeman in the village of Hamdania after the military’s highest court overturned his murder conviction last year.

Hutchins served over half of his 11-year sentence before the court found interrogators had violated his rights soon after the killing.

Civilian defense attorney Chris Oprison said the Marine should not be retried.

On Thursday, he asked Henderson to remove himself after the judge denied a request to force the Marines to provide internal communications regarding preparations by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus for news interviews in which the case was discussed.

Defense attorneys have said Mabus’ comments against Hutchins showed the military brass has a history of hostility toward Hutchins.

“We don’t believe you can be impartial. We don’t believe you can be objective,” Oprison told Henderson.

Henderson said the attorney was casting aspersions on him and rejected the characterization of some of his rulings as hostile.

Maj. Sam Newsome, who recently joined the prosecution team over Oprison’s objections, said the defense was grasping for straws.

“In this case in particular, the bones have been picked dry,” he said.

The Marine Corps ordered a retrial for Hutchins last year shortly after the ruling by the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces that found his rights were violated by interrogators in 2006 when he was detained in Iraq and held in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer for a week.

The new defense team is asking the judge to let them go to Iraq to interview witnesses in the village of Hamdania, where 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. Hutchins has said he thought the man was an insurgent.

Before his release, Hutchins of Plymouth, Massachusetts, had served seven years in the brig for one of the biggest war crime cases filed against U.S. troops in the war. None of the other seven squad members served more than 18 months.

The military earlier this year re-charged Hutchins with murder and obstruction of justice. Also among the charges is conspiracy to commit murder, which Oprison said is double jeopardy. Hutchins was convicted of murder at his original trial and acquitted of murder with premeditation.

The judge said he would rule later on whether the conspiracy charge amounted to double jeopardy and on defense requests for the government to cover costs of expert consultants.

_____

Julie Watson in San Diego contributed to this report.

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