Marine Accused of Killing Iraqi to Learn Fate

Marine Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins, on trial for a plot to kidnap and kill an Iraqi man, could soon learn his fate. A member of Hutchins' squad, Cpl. Marshall Magincalda, was acquitted of kidnapping and murder in the same case.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Here's another of the stories we're following this morning. Today a Marine sergeant could learn whether he'll spend the rest of his life in prison. Sergeant Lawrence Hutchins is accused of cooking up a plot to kidnap and kill an Iraqi man. A member of his squad has been found not guilty of kidnapping and murder, but guilty of conspiracy.

NPR's John McChesney is covering this story. And John, give us some background on how these two men fit into the case.

JOHN McCHESNEY: Well, Steve, this happened in the Iraqi village of Hamdania about a year and a half ago. This squad of eight men were looking for an insurgent and they couldn't find him, so they dragged a 52-year-old father of 11 from a house, then he was bound by Magincalda. And they planted evidence in a roadside hole to make it look like he'd been planting a bomb. And then they shot him.

Hutchins was the squad leader and according to many of the squad men, he was the mastermind of this plot. He got all eight members of the squad to agree to it. They were angry about an insurgent release. This guy that they'd been picking up had been released over and over again. So Hutchins decided he was going to teach the village a lesson.

INSKEEP: You mentioned a man named Magincalda. That's Corporal Magincalda. What does that mean that he was found guilty of conspiracy, but then not guilty of kidnapping and murder here?

McCHESNEY: Well, it could mean that he will spend a lot less time in jail. He still could face a life sentence for conspiracy to commit murder. But there was a recent case on the part of one of his comrades, Trent Thomas, and he was released from jail on similar findings.

You have to understand these guys spent 14 months in the brig. And Magincalda's lawyer was very pleased with the jury yesterday. He said this was a blessing to his client because he could have spent the rest of his life in prison without parole.

INSKEEP: Does his client admit that he did play a role in these killings?

McCHESNEY: We haven't heard a statement from him yet. What his defense was, that he was suffering from a mild case of PTSD and that his squad was under a great deal of pressure to pick up insurgents.

INSKEEP: So the corporal says he had post-traumatic stress disorder. We're waiting today on a judgment on Sergeant Hutchins, who's the last one in this case still waiting for a verdict. What are some of the testimony against him?

McCHESNEY: Well, first of all, that he masterminded the plot and that he fired the final three shots into Awad's head. He told investigators he wanted to put Awad out of his misery after he'd been shot by the rest of the squad members. And then he announced, Gents, we've just got away with murder. His lawyer denies that he said that. But it's a premeditated murder case and he could get life without parole.

INSKEEP: Premeditated murder. They're not saying that he did this in the heat of the moment?

McCHESNEY: No. This is not like the situation in the Haditha case where Marines went on a rampage and killed 24 civilians; at least that's what the prosecutors say. This was a cold-blooded plan to murder a man in Hamdania to teach the village a lesson.

INSKEEP: John, thanks very much.

McCHESNEY: My pleasure, Steve.

INSKEEP: We've been listening to NPR's John McChesney. He's covering the story of Sergeant Lawrence Hutchins, whose fate maybe learned today.

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