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thedrifter
08-08-07, 01:45 PM
'The fight has just begun'
August 07, 2007 | Old Colony Memorial
By Rich Harbert, CNC Newspapers

PLYMOUTH - The parents of Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III met with the head of Marine Corps forces in the Middle East this week in the wake of their son's conviction for killing an Iraqi civilian.

Larry and Kathy Hutchins asked Lt. Gen James Mattis to look into inconsistencies that emerged during their son's recent court martial and consider evidence that never made it to the trial.

According to Tim Harrington, a friend of the Hutchins family, Mattis promised to review the record of the trial and determine if the Manomet native got a fair hearing. Larry and Kathy Hutchins also won permission to visit their son one last time Monday before they returned to the East Coast.

Lawrence Hutchins spent the weekend in solitary confinement in the Camp Pendleton brig following his conviction and sentencing by a military panel last week. He was released from solitary confinement Monday and will remain in a multi-man cell until the government determines where he will serve his 15-year sentence.

A lawyer for Hutchins, meanwhile, is preparing papers seeking clemency for the Marine sergeant. The case was also automatically forwarded to the Navy-Marine Court of Criminal Appeal for review.

Larry and Kathy returned home from California yesterday (Tuesday). Hutchins' wife, Reyna, will remain in California while her husband remains at Camp Pendleton.

Harrington said Hutchins could serve his sentence at Miramar Naval Air Station, a Marine base in California, or at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.

Fort Leavenworth is currently the home of another Massachusetts native convicted of negligent homicide for the deaths of three Iraqi detainees.

The case of SSgt. Ray Girouard, an Army Ranger, offers unusual similarities to Hutchins'. It offers hope to family and friends as well.

Girouard, a Springfield native who moved to a small town in Tennessee to live with his grandparents as a child, was convicted in March of three counts of negligent homicide for the deaths of three detainees after an Army raid in Iraq in May 2006. Like Hutchins, Girouard maintains he was following orders.

The town of Sweetwater, Tenn., has gained national attention for the way its citizens have rallied around their adoptive son.

Joy Oakes, Girouard's sister, said the cases are practically mirror images of each other, with two sergeants taking a fall for superior officers.

Residents of Sweetwater, a town of 6,000 in eastern Tennessee, held town meetings to discuss Girouard's situation after the allegations first arose last year, and then rallied in support. A sign hanging in the middle of town may have put it best: "SSgt. Ray Girouard Fought For Us, Now We Fight For Him."

"This is such a small, close community. He grew up in this community and they just felt responsible for Ray," Oakes said.

Residents organized fundraisers and donated time and money to hire a private attorney for Girouard and help his family pay expenses. Despite his conviction, the community continues to believe in Girouard's innocence and supports his ongoing bid for clemency. In the interim, citizens of Sweetwater are paying for Girouard to get a college education while serving 10 years in prison.

Larry Orr, pastor of the First Assembly of God church, said his community tends to be conservative and pro-establishment, but quickly sensed something was amiss, based on the town's knowledge of Girouard.

"We all felt pretty early on there we were left with plenty of reason to believe that our guy did not out and out murder anybody," Orr said. The community also took into account the great stress and duress facing troops in war.

"He was no goodie two shoes or squeaky clean. He was probably a pretty typical teen, but a responsible and respectful young man who had been dealt some tough cards," Orr said.

Orr was one of many in Sweetwater who recently wrote letters of recommendation on behalf of Girouard. The letters will be packaged with Girouard's clemency appeal.

Harrington said the Plymouth VFW quietly assisted the Hutchins family with travel expenses, and friends have offered support through the sale of "Free Larry" T-shirts. Harrington hopes to expand the effort in the weeks to come. Friends of the family hope to generate support for Hutchins with a town meeting that will take a closer look at the case and the inconsistencies that developed during last week's court martial.

"The fight has just begun," Harrington said.

Ellie