CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. » A Marine staff sergeant told military jurors that everyone looked up to Lawrence Hutchins III, his squad leader. Hutchins’ 11-year-old daughter said it was "sheer terror" to live without her father.
After hours of emotional stories from the battlefield and the home front, a jury of six Marines decided Lawrence Hutchins III, 31, should get no additional prison time beyond the roughly seven years and two months he already served for murdering an Iraqi civilian.
Thursday’s decision came just a day after the same jury convicted him of unpremeditated murder in the 2006 killing in Hamdania, Iraq, and brought an overnight swing for the Marine and his family.
"Right now, I think they are ecstatic because he’s going home," defense attorney Christopher Oprison said. "Him going home is all that matters. We got a sentence we can live with."
Oprison said Hutchins’ oldest child had "a tremendous impact" on jurors. Kylie Hutchins told them she wanted better for her two siblings than she had for herself and pleaded for the family to spend Father’s Day together.
"They don’t deserve what I have. They deserve better, and they always will," she said.
Jurors also heard from Hutchins’ wife, Reyna, and a squad mate, Staff Sgt. Saul Horacio Lopez, who jousted with a prosecutor during cross-examination and described a harrowing environment in Iraq.
"(Hutchins) loved his Marines. We all looked up to him for that," Lopez said.
The sentencing recommendation isn’t the final word — the trial’s convening authority, Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., can accept or reduce the punishment in the coming weeks.
The jurors also recommended Hutchins get a bad-conduct discharge, which is less serious than a dishonorable discharge, and that his rank be reduced to private.
Hutchins appealed to the jurors to spare him, saying that he had "ice in my veins" during the thick of war and that he now regrets what he did.
He spoke haltingly at times and wiped his arms over his eyes during a long account of his killing of a 52-year-old Iraqi policeman in 2006 in the village of Hamdania.
"If I could go back and do it all over again, I would not have done this," Hutchins told jurors one day after he was convicted a second time in one of the military’s longest-running war-crime cases.
The lead prosecutor, Marine Maj. Adam Workman, told jurors the conviction was "not about questioning a Marine’s decision in the heat of battle. … This is about the wholesale abandonment of moral prowess."
"This is not about killing. This is about murder," Workman said.
Another Hutchins attorney, Marine Capt. E.J. Skoczenski acknowledged his client made a "terrible, terrible decision," but said "he’s paid his debt to society, he’s been rehabilitated, there’s no need for any additional punishment."
Hutchins, of Plymouth, Massachusetts, thought he had already won his freedom after two military courts threw out his murder conviction in a 2007 trial because of legal errors, but the Navy was allowed to retry the case.
The former squad leader told the jury of three enlisted men and three officers Thursday that he acted illegally and made "the wrong choice." He said he hoped the person he killed would be proud of the man he has become.
Giving unsworn testimony under gentle questioning by one of his attorneys, Hutchins recalled an atmosphere of frustration and steely determination to gain an upper hand in Hamdania in 2006. Shortly before the killing, a local rebel leader was freed by U.S. forces and word filtered to Hutchins that the rebel was taunting the Marines.
"I was a different person. I had ice in my veins. I cannot stress that enough," said Hutchins, who followed his father and grandfather into the Marines the day after the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks in 2001, when he was a high school senior.
Prosecutors said Hutchins and his squad planted a stolen AK-47 and shovel near the victim to make him appear to have been an insurgent. They say Hutchins bragged to his squad mates about how they got away with murder.
The defense argued the military inquiry was shoddy and didn’t support allegations that Hutchins and his squad set out to kill Hashim Ibrahim Awad because he was an Iraqi man.
All but one squad mate refused to testify at his retrial. Many have said they don’t stand behind 2006 statements they gave to military interrogators. Some said then that the man was marched from his home and bound with zip ties before being fatally shot.
The six other Marines and a Navy corpsman in the squad served less than 18 months, and Hutchins has been in and out of the brig because of the rulings.
Associated Press writer Julie Watson contributed to this report.