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Marine's Lawyers Seek New Judge in War Crime Case

Lawrence Hutchins
Lawrence Hutchins

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — Attorneys for a Marine being retried on a murder charge in a major Iraq war crime case have asked a judge to remove himself, saying he's incapable of being impartial and objective.

The judge, Marine Capt. Andrew Henderson, rejected the claims during a hearing that began Thursday and continues Friday for Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III at Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego.

The Marine Corps has again charged Hutchins in the 2006 killing of an unarmed Iraqi policeman in the village of Hamdania after the military's highest court overturned his murder conviction last year.

Hutchins served more than half of his 11-year sentence before the court found interrogators had violated his rights soon after the killing.

Civilian defense attorney Chris Oprison said the Marine should not be retried.

Oprison on Thursday asked Henderson to remove himself after the judge denied a request to force the Marines to provide internal communications about Navy Secretary Ray Mabus' preparations for news interviews in which the case was discussed.

Defense attorneys have said Mabus' comments against Hutchins showed the military brass has a history of hostility toward Hutchins.

"We don't believe you can be impartial. We don't believe you can be objective," Oprison told Henderson.

The judge said the attorney was casting aspersions on him and rejected the characterization of some of his rulings as hostile.

Maj. Sam Newsome, who recently joined the prosecution team over Oprison's objections, said the defense was grasping for straws.

"In this case in particular, the bones have been picked dry," he said.

The Marine Corps ordered a retrial for Hutchins last year shortly after the ruling by the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces that found his rights were violated by interrogators in 2006 when he was detained in Iraq and held in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer for a week.

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. He has said he thought the man was an insurgent.

Before his release, Hutchins of Plymouth, Massachusetts, had served seven years in the brig for one of the biggest war crime cases filed against U.S. troops in the war. None of the other seven squad members served more than 18 months.

The military earlier this year again charged Hutchins with murder and obstruction of justice. Also among the charges is conspiracy to commit murder, which Oprison said is double jeopardy. Hutchins was convicted of murder at his original trial and acquitted of murder with premeditation.

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