SAN DIEGO – The Navy has denied parole for a Camp Pendleton Marine convicted of murder in a major Iraq war crime case, rejecting the request by his lawyer who had argued that he should be released because of an error at his 2007 trial.
Assistant Secretary of the Navy Juan Garcia said Tuesday that parole at this time would be "premature" for Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III, who is set to be released in July 2015 at the earliest. Hutchins was convicted for leading an eight-man squad that kidnapped an Iraqi man from his home in the village of Hamdania in 2006, marched him into a ditch and killed him.
Garcia said he thoroughly reviewed the case and commended Hutchins for his good behavior during his jail time, which he called "evidence of his rehabilitative desire."
But "the offenses for which Pvt. Hutchins was convicted require his continued confinement to ensure he is sufficiently punished and to deter others from similar conduct," Garcia said in a statement.
Hutchins, 26, of Plymouth, Mass., has spent more than fours years in a military prison for the killing. He led the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment squad that prosecutors said was on a mission to find an insurgent.
When they failed to find the suspect at his home, prosecutors said, they went to a nearby house and pulled out a retired Iraqi policeman, killed him and then planted an AK-47 and a shovel to make the 52-year-old look like an insurgent planting a bomb.
Navy officials said he was denied parole because of the severity of the crime and the deceptiveness in trying to cover it up. The six other Marines and a Navy corpsman in his squad served less than 18 months.
The decision was the latest turn in the case. Hutchins was released last year after a military court threw out his conviction and ruled he had received an unfair trial because his previous lawyer left the case only weeks before the court-martial began.
The military's highest court disagreed and said the error was not serious enough to warrant a new trial. That court reinstated the conviction, and the Marine Corps sent Hutchins back to the brig in February to complete his 11-year sentence after he spent eight months working at Camp Pendleton at a desk job.
Hutchins had written a letter given to the Navy Clemency and Parole board in which he had said he was deeply sorry for what happened and has suffered nightmares and anxiety because of the death.
His lawyer, Marine Reserve Maj. Babu Kaza, said the decision was politically motivated and not based on justice.
Kaza said he planned to fight the case in military court, arguing that Navy Secretary Ray Mabus illegally interfered in the case and influenced officers under him to rule against Hutchins' release.
Mabus has said that the killing did not happen in the fog of battle, but was a carefully planned attack and cover-up.
"This outcome shows that for Hutchins, the military justice system has been subordinated to politics, which is a travesty as a matter of constitutional due process," Kaza said.
Kaza had argued that Hutchins was an outstanding Marine during his release and deserved to be freed. He also argued that Hutchins' family has suffered enough: Hutchins has a young daughter and a pregnant wife.
His wife, Reyna Hutchins, said that her family was devastated by the decision.
"I spoke with my husband shortly after he was informed of the results and he is heartbroken and was in tears on the phone," she said. "We are very sad that he will be missing the birth of his son, he is so happy and excited about this baby and it breaks his heart knowing that he can't be there for me during the complicated pregnancy that I am having. I told Larry to stay strong and not to cry, this isn't the end."