Jury to get cases of Marines accused in murder of Iraqi man
07/31/07 00:34:55

Fifteen months after they were pulled from the battlefield to stand trial in the kidnapping and murder of an Iraqi man, the fate of two Marines will be handed to a military jury.

Closing arguments were expected Tuesday at the courts-martial of Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III and Cpl. Marshall Magincalda, who are charged with murder, kidnapping, conspiracy and other offenses.

They face life in prison without parole.

Hutchins, 23, of Plymouth, Mass., and Magincalda, 24, of Manteca, are the last of a squad of seven Marines and a Navy corpsman to be charged in the April 26, 2006 slaying of a man identified by prosecutors as an innocent father of 11.

Prosecutors have singled Hutchins out as the ringleader in the case. They say the squad's most senior Marine grew frustrated that a suspected insurgent kept evading criminal prosecution, so he dreamed up a plot to kidnap and kill the man.

The kidnap did not go according to plan, however, as the squad was spotted approaching the suspected insurgent's home, according to prosecutors. Instead, the men kidnapped a neighbor, dragged him 1,000 yards to a roadside hole and shot him to death, with Hutchins firing the final shots to the man's head, prosecutors allege.

The troops tried to cover up the killing by planting a shovel and AK-47 on the dead man's body to make him look like an insurgent.

Hutchins' defense attorney Rich Brannon has said his client is innocent and only participated in the plot because he was under pressure from his superiors to catch insurgents.

Magincalda's attorney has said his client wanted no part in the plot and was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder at the time of the killing.

Prosecutors have previously identified the victim as a retired policeman named Hashim Ibrahim Awad, 52, but his name was struck from the charge sheets for Thomas, Hutchins and Magincalda. The victim is now referred to as an "unknown Iraqi male." Defense attorneys said prosecutors could not conclusively identify the body.

Defense attorneys have tried to cast doubt on the prosecution's assertion that Awad was an innocent, and suggested he may have had direct ties to insurgents.

Four lower-ranking Marines and the sailor charged in the case cut deals with prosecutors in exchange for their testimony and received sentences ranging from one to eight years in prison.

On Jul. 20, Cpl. Trent Thomas was acquitted of premeditated murder but convicted of murder conspiracy and kidnapping; he was reduced in rank to private and given a bad-conduct discharge but received no prison time.

At Thomas' court-martial, prosecutors produced as witnesses the five squad members who had cut deals. Despite testimony that Thomas had shot the man, the jury still acquitted him of premeditated murder.

Defense attorneys for Hutchins and Magincalda hope their military jurors may also look at the kidnap plot through sympathetic lenses.

"It's important to have people with combat experience, rather than a bunch of office folks," said Magincalda's attorney, Joseph Low.

All jurors in both cases have at least one combat tour under their belts and several have been awarded medals for valor.