Skip to comments.Camp Pendleton: Marine claims court reps unfit - UCI
Posted on 01/29/2014 10:09:50 PM PST by Saoirise
Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III, the Camp Pendleton Marine being retried for the slaying of an Iraqi man at the height of the war, requested a new military defense team Wednesday on opening day of his latest general court-martial.
Hutchins argued that the Marines assigned to defend him against charges of murder, obstruction of justice, larceny and other offenses have a conflict of interest relating to allegations of unlawful command influence in his case.
The potential conflict originates from public comments made in November 2009 by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, comments that Hutchins unsuccessfully argued had tainted his appeals process. The judge who ruled against Hutchins on that issue on a Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals panel, Col. Joseph Perlak, is now chief defense counsel of the Marine Corps.
Hutchins asked that Navy Capt. Paul LeBlanc, who oversaw the reversal last year by the military's highest appeals court of Hutchins' convictions, serve as acting chief defense counsel for the retrial. He also requested a new military judge, telling Col. Michael Richardson "I object to you or anyone else who falls under the Secretary of the Navy being my military judge."
Mabus, who is traveling overseas, has previously declined to comment on allegations by Hutchins of unlawful command influence.
Richardson declined to recuse himself from Wednesday's hearing at Camp Pendleton and said he doubted there were grounds to disqualify him as judge for the court martial. But he granted the request to delay arraignment until Feb. 13, giving the Marine defense chain of command time to evaluate whether a conflict of interest exists and, if needed, assign new counsel.
"I'm not going to go further until we ensure there is an attorney sitting next to you fully capable of representing you," Richardson said.
Capt. Eric Skoczenski told the military judge that he agreed with Hutchins that he should be removed as defense counsel, because of a "potential and inevitable conflict of interest" arising from his chain of command.
The government objected, with Marine Capt. Peter McNeilly saying "there is no conflict in our eyes. ... The allegations against Col. Perlak we believe are spurious."
Hutchins, 29, originally from Plymouth, Mass., was convicted in 2007 of unpremeditated murder for the killing the year before of an unarmed Iraqi man. Hutchins and his squad of eight had plotted to kill an insurgent leader, according to court testimony.
Prosecutors said they grabbed another man at random when they couldn't find their original target -- a man with no known ties to the insurgency -- then shot him in a ditch and staged the body to make it look like he had been planting roadside bombs.
Hutchins maintained during trial that he thought they snatched their "high value target." He later expressed remorse for possibly killing an innocent.
Hutchins was serving an 11-year sentence but was twice released on appeal, first in 2010 over the improper dismissal of his lawyer on the eve of trial and again in July 2013 over violation of his constitutional rights. Most recently, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces dismissed his conviction and sentence because of circumstances surrounding a confession Hutchins gave at Camp Fallujah after being held in a trailer for a week without access to a lawyer.
If convicted again of murder, Hutchins could be sentenced to as much as 11 years in prison, with credit for the more than six years already served. Testimony in the general court-martial before a panel of his military peers is not expected to begin until late summer.
Hutchins, who has been awarded a good conduct medal, Iraq campaign medal, and combat action ribbon, lives in Oceanside with his pregnant wife and two children.
He returned to work at Camp Pendleton after his release in July from the brig at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. He previously was imprisoned at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
In a motion filed late Tuesday to suspend the proceedings until he could be assigned a "conflict-free judge advocate," Hutchins signaled that his defense at court martial would include litigating the issue of possible unlawful command influence because of Mabus' public comments. "One aspect of this litigation will include developing evidence that Col Perlaks decision ... was tainted by both actual and apparent unlawful command influence," it says.
Hutchins had raised the issue of command influence in 2012 with the Navy-Marine Corps appeals court, which ruled against him in an opinion authored by Perlak.
On Monday, Hutchins said in an email: "I was used as a public spectacle in 2009, when the Secretary of the Navy made inflammatory comments about my case."
Although Hutchins had been convicted of unpremeditated murder, Mabus told The Marine Corps Times in November 2009 that the incident was: "So completely premeditated, that it was not in the heat of battle, that not only was the action planned but the cover-up was planned, and that they picked somebody at random, just because he happened to be in a house that was convenient. He was murdered."
Hutchins' appeals were ongoing at the time and he was up for annual clemency and parole.
In an interview that month with North County Times, Mabus said of Hutchins and his squad: "None of their actions lived up to the core values of the Marine Corps and the Navy. This was not a 'fog of war' case occurring in the heat of battle. This was carefully planned and executed, as was the cover-up. The plan was carried out exactly as it had been conceived."
In the 2013 ruling by the military's highest appeals court, one judge criticized Mabus for making disturbing and inappropriate comments to the media in 2009 during post-trial clemency proceedings that created an intolerable strain on public perception of the military justice system.
Those comments, however, were not the basis for the ruling tossing Hutchins' conviction because the court said it does not have jurisdiction over those proceedings.
Latest from Hutchins arraignment, good stuff down at Pendleton today!
“a man with no known ties to the insurgency “
And the guy they caught there, at night,, was never identified. Wonder why? The prosecutors forget that little point.
Active Duty ping.
Bio on Col Perlak:
Tricky, very Tricky
Based on everything said....I’d agree there is a conflict of interest. The problem is....you’d almost have to reach over into the Army or Air Force....to find a judge or defense support team who isn’t tainted. That won’t happen.
So my bet....the case goes forward....they get some type of conviction...and it gets thrown out a year later because of the tainted nature. The Marines will then be stuck, with no way to repeat the process (I think), and that clears the deck entirely. Maybe it’s planned this way, or just the luck of the draw.
I believe there is precedence for the assignment of an Army or Air Force JAG. However, this will require the swallowing of pride and the order by higher ups to avoid the appearance of taint. Given the fact that it would have to be higher than Sec Navy and that Obama has zero respect for the military ... I don’t see it happening unless a lot of pressure is brought into play.
Wears a uniform, has a haircut, gets a USMC paycheck. But JAG ain’t grunts, and contribute almost nothing to the USMC. They went to law school after PLC and never looked back. They have been in the courtroom ever since. This was always true a lot, in this latest war more than ever.
That’s not correct, at least a surefire ident was not found
I want to ask Hutch myself, as the original went, he was ordered by his lt to hit that guy, the corpsman didn’t like it, and then it fell apart
Hutch approved my analysis of the census reports but his family is so bitter now they aren’t talking to too many people
The problem is a Marine is being tried by politicians.
Don't know a lot about the case but ,did they ever prove that the guy didn't need killing.
I do not understand at all this insane effort to ‘prove’ they were right all along. The military has become such a political whore house... My heart just breaks
After Sgt. Hutchins having served six years this retrial really stinks, especially in regards to Sec. Mabus and Col. Perlak because they had to know this was going to raise questions of conflict of interest.
The politics of this persecution is outrageous.
Reference the book Honor and Betrayal (Patrick Robinson) for similar machinations by the military command and prosecution’s devious dealings to hamstring the defense. Hutchins may have to go outside the military to find a competent defense attorney. As for the judge, they’re all tainted now, since they are careerists and know which side of their bread is buttered.
Thanks for the ping!