CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (AP) — A Marine sergeant was convicted Wednesday of murdering an Iraqi civilian in 2006, the second time a military jury has returned a guilty verdict in what has become one of the most complicated and long-running criminal cases from the Iraq War.
The jury of three enlisted men and three military officers found Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III guilty of unpremeditated murder.
His wife, Reyna Hutchins, sobbed as the verdict was read. He embraced and kissed her before he left the courtroom.
The jury also found him guilty of conspiracy and larceny. 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 found Hutchins not guilty of falsifying an official statement.
The defense argued the military inquiry was shoddy and did not support allegations that Hutchins and his squad set out to kill 52-year-old Hashim Ibrahim Awad because he was an Iraqi male.
"You don't have to convict Sgt. Hutchins of anything," Attorney Christopher Oprison, who represented Hutchins, said during closing arguments.
Hutchins, of Plymouth, Massachusetts, was allowed to go home but will return Thursday for sentencing, when he will learn if the judge will credit him for the nearly seven years he already served of an 11-year sentence.
The judge could sentence him to time served, to complete the more than four years left on his previous sentence, or some other possibility.
Hutchins, his attorney and the Marine Corps all declined to comment after the verdict.
Hutchins had his murder conviction overturned twice by military courts after rulings that there were legal errors in the handling of his case. Under the military justice system, the Navy was allowed to order his case to be retried.
The military's highest court, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, ruled in 2013 that Navy interrogators in Iraq at the time violated his rights by holding him in solitary confinement for seven days without access to a lawyer.
The six other Marines and a Navy corpsman in his squad served less than 18 months locked up.
All but one of his squad mates refused to testify again at his retrial. Many have said they now do not stand behind the 2006 statements they gave to military interrogators about how they marched a man from his home, bound him with zip ties and fired on him.
Maj. Samson Newsome argued for the prosecution that investigators spent hours at the crime scene and in the village but were misled by Hutchins after he lied to them, saying the shooting was justified because the Iraqi man had fired upon the Marines and had been digging a hole for a roadside bomb. That cost military officers weeks in tracking down the crime, he said.
But investigators later secured the body, weapon and testimony from squad mates, Newsome told jurors. Prosecutors said Hutchins shot the man three times in the face and then bragged to his squad mates about how they got away with murder.
Newsome told the court his squad mates did not want to testify because they didn't want to "come in and talk about the disgusting thing they did."
In their affidavits stating their refusal to testify, "they never claimed they didn't murder the man," Newsome said.
Hutchins has been in and out of the brig because of the rulings.
He was released briefly after a lower court overturned Hutchins' conviction in 2010, ruling his trial in 2007 was unfair because his lead defense lawyer quit shortly before it began. But the military's highest court at that time overruled that decision, saying the problem was not grave enough to throw out the conviction.
Then he was released again after the highest court ruled interrogators had violated his rights by keeping him in solitary confinement.
Prosecutors argued that Hutchins waived his right to counsel at the time and willfully told his side of the story without coercion.