The military’s equivalent of the Supreme Court overturned the conviction Wednesday of a Marine found guilty of murdering a civilian during the Iraq war, saying he was interrogated after asking for a lawyer.
A court originally sentenced Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III to 15 years in prison for the murder of 52-year-old Hashim Awad in April of 2006.
Prosecutors said Hutchins, who led a Marine squad that dragged Awad from his home, shot him in the face several times and then placed a shovel and AK-47 near his body to make it appear he was an insurgent burying roadside bombs.
Several other Marines were convicted in the attack but all served less than a year and a half behind bars.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces overturned Hutchins’ convictions because the court members said investigators violated his Fifth Amendment rights.
The court said Hutchins asked for legal counsel when first questioned by military investigators from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. He was then placed in solitary confinement for a week before investigators asked to search his belongings.
Hutchins consented to the search and also asked if he could tell his side of the story about what happened. This time, he waived his right to an attorney and wrote a detailed confession.
The court ruled his conviction overturned because they said once Hutchins requested an attorney he could not be interrogated without one present unless he initiated contact with investigators with a desire to talk. The court said it was in fact the NCIS that re-initiated talks beginning with investigators’ request to search his belongings.
The Judge Advocate General’s office, which prosecuted the case, could not be immediately reached for comment on any decision whether to re-try the case.