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US military judge releases Marine cleared of killing Iraqi civilian

A military judge on Monday ordered the release of US Marine Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III, two months after his conviction for killing an Iraqi citizen was reversed [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] by the Navy-Marine Court for Criminal Appeals [official website], citing lack of a fair trial. Hutchins was convicted in 2007 [JURIST report] of murder, conspiracy to commit murder, making a false official statement and larceny for his role in the April 2006 kidnapping and murder of Iraqi civilian Hashim Ibrahim Awad in Hamdania [USMC materials; JURIST news archive]. He was originally sentenced to 15 years in prison, but had his sentence reduced to 11 years [JURIST report]. Hutchins was released pending an appeal [certificate for review; JURIST report] to the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces [official website] by the US Navy, which contends that the lower court applied the incorrect standard for an unfair trial when reaching the decision to overturn the conviction. The court is expected to hear arguments on the appeal in the fall and render a decision early next year.

The US military continues to investigate civilian deaths in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars [JURIST news archives]. In May, the US Department of Defense (DOD) [official website] announced an investigation [JURIST report] into allegations that a "small number" of soldiers are responsible for the unlawful deaths of three civilians in Afghanistan. In addition to Hutchins' original conviction, six Marines pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to charges related to their roles in the Hamdania incident, which involved Awad being removed from his residence and killed, then arranged with a shovel and firearm to appear as if he were planting an improvised explosive device.

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