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Marine Convicted of Murdering Iraqi Man

Thursday, August 02, 2007

By THOMAS WATKINS, Associated Press Writer

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CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — 

A Marine Corps squad leader was convicted Thursday 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 had been charged with premeditated murder but the military jury struck the premeditation element from the verdict. Sentencing deliberations for Hutchins were set to begin Friday morning.

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."

His wife, sitting in the public area behind Hutchins, sobbed silently with her head bowed.

Prosecutors said that during a nighttime patrol in Hamdania, Iraq, in April 2006, Hutchins' squad hatched a plan to kidnap and kill a suspected insurgent from his house. When they couldn't find him, they instead kidnapped a man from a neighboring house, dragged him to a hole and shot him.

He had been identified as Hashim Ibrahim Awad, 52, but the name was dropped after defense attorneys contended the identity was not conclusive.

Prosecutors said squad members tried to cover up the killing by planting a shovel and AK-47 by his body to make it look like he was an insurgent planting a bomb.

Several witnesses testified the plot was born out of frustration after suspected insurgents kept evading prosecution.

The squad was pulled from the battlefield after the slaying.

Lawyers for Hutchins argued that he participated in the plot because his own officers had set a poor leadership example and given approval for Marines to use violence in capturing and interrogating suspected insurgents.

Another jury recessed Thursday, unable to reach a sentencing decision 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 was also found guilty of larceny and housebreaking, and cleared of making a false official statement.

Magincalda was not accused of firing any shots, but was charged with murder for participating in the plot.

A military psychiatrist testified 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."

At the hearing, Magincalda stood flanked by his attorneys to thank the jury and apologize, sounding devastated by events of the last 15 months.

"I would like to think I will go on to do good things in my life and can leave a better impression than that which I have right now," Magincalda said, his voice repeatedly breaking and tears welling.

Prosecutor Lt. Col. Sean Sullivan recommended to the jury that Magincalda be sentenced to 10 years in prison and be given a bad-conduct discharge. Defense attorney Lt. Col. Philip Simmons countered that Magincalda, who has been in the brig since May 2006, has already been punished enough.

Simmons asked the jury not to give Magincalda a punitive discharge. If he is given a bad-conduct or dishonorable discharge, the Marine will lose his entitlement to military benefits, including medical treatment from the Veterans Administration.

All eight members of the squad were initially charged with murder and kidnapping.

Four lower-ranking Marines and a Navy corpsman cut deals with prosecutors in exchange for their testimony and received sentences ranging from one to eight years in prison.

A jury last month acquitted another corporal of murder but convicted him of conspiracy to commit murder and kidnapping. According to testimony, Cpl. Trent Thomas of Madison, Ill., had greater involvement in the killing than Magincalda. Thomas was sentenced to a reduction in rank and a bad-conduct discharge but no prison time.

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