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The U.S. military's highest court has overturned the murder conviction of a Marine from Massachusetts. But the case is still far from over. Plymouth native Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III has served about half of an 11-year sentence for kidnapping and executing an innocent Iraqi civilian in 2006. The case is one of the most serious Iraqi war crimes prosecuted by the U.S. government.
The Marine's father, Lawrence Hutchins, Jr., stood in the driveway outside his home in Plymouth. The flag of the U.S. Marine Corps covers the entire rear window of his pickup truck. His father, the original Lawrence Hutchins, was a Sergeant Major in the Marine Corps. Lawrence Hutchins, Jr. served in the Marine Reserves. And the older of his two sons, Lawrence Hutchins III, followed in the family tradition.
"Him and his brother are 13 months apart. They never fought. They got along great. They were best friends. I never had a problem with either one of them," said Lawrence Hutchins, Jr.
"Larry was a scapegoat. Larry was unfortunately in the wrong place at the wrong time."Lawrence Hutchins, Jr.
Kurt, the younger of the two brothers, became a corrections officer in Plymouth. That was his older brother's plan too when he got out of the Marines, but in May of 2006, Lawrence Hutchins, Jr. got a call from his son Larry.
"Kind of a weird phone call. He was kind of upset, kind of hard to make out what was going on. And he just told us that he was arrested, and he told us it was for an incident in Iraq," recalled Lawrence Hutchins, Jr.
The incident became known as "The Pendleton 8." Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III was the 22-year old-squad leader of a team tasked with finding an Iraqi insurgent suspected of planting IEDs. Later, court martial testimony charged that the mission morphed into a conspiracy to capture and kill an innocent civilian and stage the murder to make it look as if they had found him planting explosives.
Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III was convicted of murder by a military tribunal, and he received the longest sentence — 11 years — while charges against the seven other Marines were significantly reduced in exchange for their testimony.
That was more than five years ago. Except for a brief period, Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III has been in a Navy brig in California. But his father, Lawrence Hutchins, Jr., has always maintained his son was wrongly accused.
"Larry was a scapegoat. Larry was unfortunately in the wrong place at the wrong time. They had to punish someone for something that was going on out there, and he was the one they picked on," he said.
Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III had signed a confession but always maintained that he did so under duress. When he was arrested in Iraq, he was put into solitary confinement — in the back of a trailer — and interrogated without an attorney present, despite his repeated requests for a lawyer.
"He has no animosity whatsover against the Marines. He loves the Marines. If there's a chance of him staying in, he very possibly will."Lawrence Hutchins, Jr.
Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III took the case to the military's highest court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.
Earlier this week he called the family home in Plymouth to wish his father a happy birthday.
"And so my wife said, 'What did you send him?' 'Me. I'm free. I won the case,'" Lawrence Hutchins, Jr. said, recounting the words of his son.
The military appeals court ruled that Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III's constitutional rights were violated and his conviction for murder was dismissed.
"He has no animosity whatsover against the Marines. He loves the Marines. If there's a chance of him staying in, he very possibly will," his father said.
But the case is not over. In a written statement, the U.S. Navy would only say the "Judge Advocate General is reviewing the opinion to determine the appropriate next step."
Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III could be freed in a couple of days, or the Navy could order a new court martial or ask the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the case.
This segment aired on June 28, 2013.
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