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Marine charged in Iraqi war crime case freed

| Friday, July 19, 2013, 6:39 p.m.

SAN DIEGO — The Marine Corps released a sergeant Friday whose murder conviction was overturned in a major blow to the military's prosecution of Iraq war crimes.

Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III of Plymouth, Mass., walked out of the brig at the Marine Corps Miramar Air Station in San Diego after having served more than half of his 11-year sentence.

Once his release paperwork was processed, Hutchins was to be transported by Marine Corps officials to Camp Pendleton, where he would check in to his new unit at the base's headquarters, said Lt. Col. Joseph Kloppel, a Marine Corps spokesman.

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 — a retired policeman — was an insurgent leader.

None of the other seven squad members served more than 18 months.

The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces 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.

The move was 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 most recent petition.

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

The court on Thursday denied that request and issued a mandate that he be released.

The case, however, is not closed.

The Navy can order the case be retried or prosecutors can appeal to the Supreme Court.

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