Lawrence Hutchins

28.04.2016 ( Last modified: 17.08.2016 )
Trial Watch would like to remind its users that any person charged by national or international authorities is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

facts

Lawrence Hutchins was born in 1984 in Plymouth in the State of Massachusetts USA. After high school, he joined the Marine Corps and attained the rank of Sergeant. In January 2006, he was sent to Iraq on his first assignment to a war zone.

On 26 April 2006, around 2 a.m., a group of marines made its way to Hamdania, a small village to the west of Baghdad in order to carry out a search. On order of Hutchins, they entered the home of Hashim Awad Al Zobaï, a 52 year old man and father of 11 children. They took hold of him, tied his wrists and force marched him to a place where a clash had taken place just beforehand between the American armed forces and the Iraqi insurgents. Here, they tied his feet together and forced him to lie down in a bomb crater. The marines then withdrew, a few of them firing at him as he lay tied up at the bottom of the crater. Others, at the same time fired into the air with a Kalashnikov which had been seized a short time beforehand, in order to make it seem as if a “genuine” combat was taking place.

After the man had succumbed, the marines scattered the blank cartridges from the Kalashnikov around his dead body and placed the rifle by his side. Before leaving, the marines also untied the bindings on his feet and wrists. Their objective was to make it appear as if Hashim Awad had been caught in the process of planting a homemade bomb at the side of the road and that his death was the result of a combat. The following morning the local police found the dead body and interrogated the neighbours for the purpose of identification.

The American military authorities opened proceedings against seven marines and a marine medic for conspiracy, abduction and murder in the Hamdania case. According to the testimony given under oath by six of them, Hutchins was the brain behind this operation including for the murder of Hashim Awad Al Zobaï.

legal procedure

The American military authorities opened proceedings against seven marines and a marine medic for conspiracy, abduction and murder of a civilian in Hamdania. The charges were officially confirmed on 21 June 2006. Six of the accused pleaded guilty, including Hutchins.

Hutchins based his defence on the encouragement offered by his hierarchical superiors to carry out this mission. According to his lawyer, Hutchins believed he was doing “what he was supposed to do”. Members of his unit were said to have witnessed their superiors beating an Iraqi suspect, and reportedly felt constant pressure to become more aggressive in an environment which was openly hostile to them at the time of the alleged facts. Spurred on in this way, Hutchins was said to have planned the operation with the consent of his superiors.

On 5 August 2007, Hutchins was found guilty of theft, obstruction of justice and false testimony. On 6 August 2007, a jury composed of nine military personnel sentenced Hutchins to 15 years in prison together with a dishonourable discharge from the army after he was found guilty of murder, but the charges of premeditation and conspiracy were dropped.

Hutchins was the only member of this punitive expedition to be charged with murder. Based on the testimony of the other defendants, as set out in the indictment, Hutchins, in addition to being the brain behind the operation, had been the one to have finished off Hashim Awad Al Zobaï by shooting him in the head with three bullets at point blank range.

Seven others were given sentences in the Hamdania case, ranging from dishonourable discharge, to 8 years in prison for Private Robert Pennington.

On 24 April 2010, Hutchins’ conviction was overturned by the U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals due to an alleged error committed by one of the trial judges, who disallowed a military attorney whose knowledge on the case was critical to the outcome and would have allegedly proved Hutchins innocence. According to the Appeals court, this decision denied Hutchins a fair trial.

The military prosecutors have appealed this decision.

On 14 June 2010 Hutchins was released from the military jail in Camp Pendleton and he returned to the 1st Marine Division Unit after a military judge determined he was not likely to abscond while his case is being appealed.

The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces in Washington overturned the decision of 24 April 2010 thus affirming Hutchins’ conviction. The Court claimed that the fact of allowing one military attorney to withdraw from the case was not serious enough to throw out the conviction. Hutchins was ordered back to custody at the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station.

Hutchins submitted a new claim arguing that his constitutional rights were violated when he was held in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer and that Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus influenced the case illegally with statements made in public. On 2 July 2012, the Court of Appeals accepted the petition and approved a review of the case. On 13 November 2012, the Court heard oral arguments.

On 27 June 2013, judgement, ruling that Hutchins’ constitutional rights were violated and that a confession made while he was held without access to a lawyer should not have been admitted as evidence.

A retrial has been decided on charges of murder, conspiracy, obstruction of justice, false statements and larceny. It will take place in front of a martial court and will begin on 18 August 2014.

Hutchins’s re-trial began on 8 June 2015 at Camp Pendleton, North of San Diego, United States.

Hutchins was convicted by a six-Marine jury on 17 June 2015 of unpremeditated murder. The jury also convicted Hutchins of conspiracy and larceny as prosecutors say he stole the AK-47 and the shovel planted near the body to make the victim look like he was an insurgent.

The jury acquitted Hutchins of making a false report about the 2006 incident.

With regards to Hutchins’s sentence, the military jury ruled on 18 June 2015 that he would not get any additional prison time beyond the seven years he has already served for the crime.

The jurors also recommended Hutchins get a bad-conduct discharge, which is less serious than a dishonourable discharge, and that his rank be reduced to private.

The recommendation is not the final word though as the trial’s convening authority, Marine Corps Lieutenant General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., can accept or reduce the sentence.

context

The Iraqi Special Tribunal (IST) is a hybrid tribunal created on 10 June 2003, in Bagdad by the Coalition Provisional Authority, namely, the government established after the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The mission of the Tribunal is to adjudicate on the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity as well as war crimes, committed between 17 July 1968 and 1 May 2003, period that covered the political regime of the Ba’ath Party. It is specifically targeted to crimes committed by Iraqis during the aforementioned period, especially, those committed during the war against Iran (1980 – 1988) and the invasion of Kuwait (1990-1991).

The Iraqi Special Tribunal was created in the context of the Iraq War, also known as the Gulf War that started on 20 March 2003 with the operation “Iraq Freedom”. This operation was led by the United States, the United Kingdom, and the International Coalition, to overthrow Saddam Hussein´s Ba’ath Party. Originally founded in Damascus in 1947, the Ba’ath Party reached the power in Iraq in 1963, but, due to the coup on 17 July 1968 it held definitively the power until 2003. When Saddam Hussein took power 16 July 1979, the party completely changed, becoming militarized and organizing it in different cells around the country, showing strong resistance to the challenges they faced.

The war in Iraq was led by the United States. The reasons officially announced by the government of G.W. Bush were the fight against terrorism, the elimination of the presumptive mass destruction weapons held by Iraq and the arrest of Saddam Hussein, to point only the main ones. After a quick defeat of the Iraqi Army, at the end of April 2003, and the capture of Saddam Hussein, the coalition and Iraq attempted to install a government of democratic transition, representative of all the Iraqi communities and, at the same time, proceed to trial the members of the Ba’ath Party, who had been recently captured.

In close collaboration with the United States Justice Department, to which Paul Brenner, second civil administrator of Iraq, reports, the statute of the Special Tribunal is established by decree on 10 December 2003. The United States have provided more than 100 million dollars to ensure the “building of the hearings, perform the exhumations, to study the seized documents, the production of evidence and the training of the IST members”.

The statute of this Tribunal combines the two existing models of proceedings and is strongly inspired by the American accusatory system, as well as in the Egyptian law, which is essentially inquisitorial .In the case of insufficiency of the statute, it envisages the recurrence to the Penal Proceeding Code of Iraq from 1971.

In regard to criminal definitions, the Tribunal statute introduced, along with the Iraqi criminal law, a number of criminal definitions extracted from the statutes of other international criminal courts, with the aim of charging Saddam Hussein, as well as his aides, with the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Besides, when these crimes do not find correspondence in the Iraqi criminal law, the statute authorizes the judges to fix the amount of the punishment, regarding the entity of the crime, the individual characteristics of the accused and the international case law.

The Iraq Special Tribunal has in structure, 20 prosecutors hired for three years, three chambers, each one formed with five permanent judges that last five years in their position, an Appeal Chamber with nine judges, as well as 20 investigating judges, designated for three years. The Tribunal is composed exclusively of Iraqi justices, some of whom have claimed, since the beginning, being under the pressure of the Provisional Government. Some other justices have been victims of threats, kidnapping, and even killings.

Although this instance has been criticized since it has come into force, accused of, allegedly, being an instance to provide justice for the winners, the Iraqi Special Tribunal procured the means to accomplish its central goal as soon as possible, namely, to judge the old head of State, Saddam Hussein, as well as the main representatives of the Ba’ath regime. Beside genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, the Tribunal is competent to manage the judiciary, try the crime of squandering of national resources and the use of the Iraq Army against an Arabic country: charges for all those crimes were presented in the first trial.

The first proceeding that took place in an Iraqi court was the awaited trial of Saddam Hussein, judged along with seven of his lieutenants, on 19 October 2003. The circumstances in which the proceedings started raised doubts regarding its impartiality and for that reason, many Human Rights organizations, among them Human Rights Watch, denounced either the technical limitations as well as financials ones, aimed to hinder the defendant’s lawyers work, in comparison with the support given to the Prosecutors.

Another aspect of strong controversy was the re-establishment of the dead penalty on 30 June 2004, which had being abolished in 2003 by Paul Bremer. Even there is an abolitionist position acquired in International Law, many dead sentences were early adopted and the paroxysm is no other than the hung of Saddam Hussein in December 2006, deliberately made public. After the hung, the Tribunal continued and still continues, prosecuting the old members of the Ba’ath government.

Up to date, the Iraqi Special Tribunal is under development, always in a context of political crisis and recurring attacks. The execution of “Ali the Chemist”, cousin of Saddam Hussein, on 25 January 2010 seems have made resurge all the opposition movements from the minority religions that remain in Iraqi territory.