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October 16th, 2006 - Marine Squad Leader Appears in Court in Iraqi Death Case
Mon, Oct. 16, 2006
Camp Pendleton, Calif. - The leader of a Marine squad suspected of kidnapping and murdering an Iraqi man appeared in military court Monday, but a judge delayed a ruling on whether to order a court-martial while he reviews evidence.
Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins headed the eight-man squad that prosecutors said took Hashim Ibrahim Awad, 52, from his home in Hamdania and shot him without provocation after they failed to catch a known insurgent.
Wearing a desert camouflage uniform, Hutchins spoke only to confirm his identity at the hearing and say he understood his rights.
Both sides agreed to submit unspecified evidence in document form.
During previous proceedings, prosecutors said much of the information comes from statements given by the seven Marines and a Navy corpsman assigned to the squad.
On Oct. 6, the corpsman, Petty Officer 3rd Class Melson J. Bacos pleaded guilty to kidnapping and conspiracy under a deal with prosecutors in which he agreed to testify at his court-martial and during upcoming proceedings about what he witnessed in Iraq.
Bacos has testified that Hutchins fired three rounds into Awad's head after checking to see if he was dead.
Hutchins was the fourth Marine to have an Article 32 hearing. Marine Corps spokesman Lt. Col. Sean Gibson said preliminary hearings for the other three Marines in the case had been canceled and they would go straight to courts-martial.
The squad entered Hamdania on April 26 while searching for a known insurgent who had been captured three times and released - a situation that angered Hutchins, Bacos testified.
The group approached a house where the insurgent was believed to be hiding. But when someone inside woke up, the Marines instead went to another home and grabbed Awad, a former policeman, according to the testimony.
Bacos said the squad had intended to get someone else if they did not capture the insurgent, then stage a firefight to make it appear they had found an Iraqi planting a roadside bomb.
Prosecutors said Awad had 11 children.
In return for Bacos' testimony, other counts of murder, kidnapping and conspiracy were dropped. He was sentenced to a year in custody.
After Monday's hearing, Hutchins' civilian defense lawyer Rich Brannon questioned the testimony by Bacos.
"When you can walk away from a murder case ... that's a pretty large inducement to say what they want you to say," Brannon said.
The hearing was part of an Article 32 investigation, where a hearing officer determines if there is probable cause to send a defendant to court-martial. It's the functional equivalent of a civilian preliminary or grand jury hearing.
Brannon said he fully expected the case to be referred to court-martial. He said Hutchins was anxious to have his side heard in court.
"To my knowledge, at this point in time, I don't think he did anything wrong," Brannon said.
In a separate case, Hutchins faces charges of assault on three Iraqi civilians in another incident near Hamdania on April 10. The incidents were uncovered during the investigation of Awad's death.
© 2006 AP Wire and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.
San Diego Union-Tribune
10:59 a.m. October 16, 2006
San Diego – An Article 32 hearing for a U.S. Marine Corps squad leader accused, along with his men, of kidnapping and murder in the April death of an Iraqi civilian concluded at Camp Pendleton Monday without a decision being made on whether there are grounds for him to stand trial.
Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III allegedly led the men in the operation that resulted in the shooting death of 52-year-old Hashim Ibrahim Awad near Hamdania, Iraq, on April 26. Six Marines and a Navy corpsman are accused in the slaying.
An Article 32 hearing is equivalent to a preliminary or grand jury hearing in civilian court, where evidence is presented to determine whether there is probable cause for a trial.
A military judge will decide whether to proceed with a court-martial or administrative action.
During Monday morning's hearing, which lasted about 45 minutes, both sides presented written evidence, but no witnesses were called. The judge is expected to make a decision in about a week.
Hutchins allegedly ordered his men to Awad's home, suspecting him of being a terrorist and angry that the man had been arrested and released three times.
The man's family awakened as the men approached and Hutchins allegedly signaled the men to go instead to a neighbor's house, where Awad was dragged out, taken to a pre-dug hole, bound, gagged and shot multiple times, according to testimony by the Navy corpsman.
The men allegedly stole a shovel and an AK-47 from an Iraqi home, then planted them near Awad's body to make it appear that the victim was surprised while planting an improvised roadside bomb.
Hutchins also allegedly told his men to say they had been in a firefight with Awad and killed him in self-defense, according to testimony by Navy Hospitalman 3rd Class Melson Bacos.
Bacos, who is expected to testify against his squad mates, pleaded guilty two weeks ago to kidnapping and conspiracy in return for leniency. A murder charge against Bacos was dropped, and he will spend no more than five months in the brig, according to his attorney. On Friday, a military judge denied a request by Lance Cpl. Jerry E. Shumate to be freed, ordering that he remain in custody until his court-martial in February.
Also charged in Awad's death are Lance Cpl. Tyler Jackson, Cpl. Trent Thomas, Pfc. John Jodka, Lance Cpl. Robert Pennington and Cpl. Marshall Magincalda.
Jodka and Magincalda have also been referred for courts-martial.
Military officials said they would not seek the death penalty against Jodka, Magincalda and Shumate, who has also been charged with assault in a separate case.
The accused were infantrymen attached to Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment.