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Jun 26

Written by: Diana West
Wednesday, June 26, 2013 3:53 PM 

This just in from Sgt. Hutchins' lawyer, Major Babu Kaza:

Good afternoon,

The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) issued a decision today (2 hours ago) tossing out the conviction and sentence in US v. Hutchins.  Sgt Hutchins had been convicted of unpremeditated murder and various other offenses arising from the death of of an Iraqi man in April 2006 in the village of Hamdania, Iraq.  In 2007, Hutchins and his squad, dubbed the "Pendleton 8" were all convicted of various offenses related to the killing.  None of the other 7 members of the squad served more than 18 months, whereas Hutchins has been serving an 11 year sentence.

In its decision, CAAF found that Sgt Hutchins' convictions were the product of an illegally obtained confession.  Specifically, when Sgt Hutchins was first interrogated at Camp Fallujah, he requested to speak to a lawyer.  But rather than honor that request, NCIS locked him in solitary confinement for 7 days without access to a phone or other communication (his meals were brought to him, and he was escorted to the bathroom).  It should be noted that during this time Sgt Hutchins was suffering from PTSD and nightmares related to his prior experiences in Iraq--conditions for which he would later be heavily medicated.  After 7 days of this, the same NCIS agent that had initially interrogated Sgt Hutchins reapproached him in his trailer and reminded him of the ongoing investigation.  With where Sgt Hutchins was mentally, and after 7 days of isolation, at that point he broke and informed NCIS that he would give them what they wanted.  He later signed a statement prepared by NCIS.

Because the convictions rested on this illegally obtained confession, CAAF tossed out the case.   The majority opinion did not address the issue of unlawful command influence (UCI) from Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus.  (So it will be raised again if this case continues.)

An opinion from Judge Ryan concurred that the confession was illegally obtained and the convictions should be tossed, but she also said that the Court should have addressed the UCI, as Secretary Mabus had made statements which were "disturbing and inappropriate."  They were also described as inflammatory.  Chief Judge Baker dissented on both the confession and UCI.

The decision is here:
http://www.armfor.uscourts.gov/newcaaf/opinions/2012SepTerm/12-0408.pdf

Bottom line:  Sgt Hutchins is now an innocent man in the eyes of the law, and should be free from confinement at the Miramar Brig very soon.

The Government could appeal to the Supreme Court, or the convening authority could order a retrial, or they could just let this go.  Notably, Sgt Hutchins was recently recommended for parole, so the Government could conclude that there is nothing to be gained from a new trial; they have already extracted their pound of flesh.

At this point, it is time for this case to be over.  Sgt Hutchins and his family have suffered enough. 

I will have more to say later, and will go in more detail, but I wanted to send this out now. 

I just spoke to Hutchins, and he said, "I just can't wait to be home with my wife and kids."  (Hutchins' wife and two children have been visiting him every week at the brig.) 

Semper Fi,

Major Babu Kaza, USMCR

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