Military court denies Navy appeal in Iraq war case

SAN DIEGO (AP) — The military’s highest court has denied a government request to reconsider the overturned murder conviction of a Marine who has served more than half of his 11-year sentence in one of the biggest war crime cases to emerge from the Iraq war.

The denial from the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces clears the way for the release of Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III, of Plymouth, Mass. from the brig at California’s Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.

Hutchins’ military attorney Maj. Babu Kaza said Hutchins was expected to be released Friday and reassigned to Camp Pendleton north of San Diego, where he was previously stationed. He’ll return to living in nearby Oceanside with his wife and two children, Kaza said.

The Navy can still appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court or retry Hutchins.

The appeals court 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.

Prosecutors asked the court to reconsider, saying Hutchins waived his right to counsel at the time and willfully told his side of the story without coercion.

Hutchins said in a statement that the Navy’s motion was “frivolous, and is solely designed to stall my imminent release.”

“My family and I have been through so much,” Hutchins said in the statement.

Under the military justice system, Hutchins had to remain in the brig until the court ruled on the motion. After its denial of the Navy’s motion, the court issued a separate order mandating his release.

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 move is 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.

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