CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – Four Marines who pleaded guilty in the killing of an Iraqi man last year pointed to their squad leader, Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III, as the driving force behind the attack that day in Hamdania.
Defense attorneys say Hutchins is innocent, and on Monday, they were expected to reveal their strategy during a motions hearing that comes as lawyers raise questions about the victim's innocence and the difficulty of getting reliable information out of Iraq.
Hutchins' attorney Rich Brannon recently traveled with other attorneys to Iraq to try to investigate in Hamdania, a rural town on the outskirts of Fallujah.
Prosecutors say it was there on April 26 that Hutchins' squad, unable to find an Iraqi insurgent they suspected of planting bombs, kidnapped Hashim Ibrahim Awad and killed him to "send a message."
The lawyers' trip to Hamdania and comments suggest a potential trial strategy — that of convincing a jury that Awad, 52, was an insurgent and the Marines were justified in their actions.
"I went to Iraq to see if I could gather additional evidence so I could have proof that the judge would allow me to bring into court as to Awad's past terrorist activities," said Joseph Low, attorney for Cpl. Marshall Magincalda, who faces murder and kidnapping charges.
But Low said the conditions made it impossible to gather any evidence linking Awad to a terrorist past — the lawyers only had about 20 minutes on the ground in Hamdania because of the danger.
Low also said that the government had classified information about Awad's past, and he intended to file a motion to allow that evidence in court.
The four Marines and one Navy corpsman with the squad who have pleaded guilty to reduced charges have testified that Hutchins came up with the plan — and several said he fired the fatal shots. Another Marine who initially pleaded guilty to murder later withdrew the plea saying he had been ordered by Hutchins to participate.
Squad members have testified that Awad was forced into a hole and shot, and that the squad then tried to cover it up by placing an AK-47 and shovel by his body to make it look like he was an insurgent planting a bomb.
The Navy corpsman, Seaman Recruit Melson J. Bacos, told a court that after Awad was dead, Hutchins said, "Congratulations, we just got away with murder, gents."