Family Shocked by Charges Against Marine

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The family of a U.S. Marine Sgt. is shocked that he could face murder charges. The Marine is accused of leading a team that killed an Iraqi civilian in a village near Baghdad last April. Investigators are trying to determine whether the troops killed the Iraqi and then tried to cover it up.


A story now about one of the Marines who's being charged with killing a civilian in Hamdania, Iraq. Back in April Staff Sergeant Lawrence Hutchins led a platoon in search of a suspected insurgent. But the events of that day led to charges that Hutchins and seven other servicemen murdered an Iraqi civilian. Hutchins comes from a long line of Marines. Both his father and grandfather served in the Corps.

NPR's Tom Bowman has Staff Sergeant Hutchins's story.

TOM BOWMAN reporting:

The call came in the middle of the afternoon to his home just outside Plymouth, Massachusetts. Larry Hutchins thought his son and namesake was patrolling in Iraq, but he was calling from the brig.

Mr. LARRY HUTCHINS (Father of Staff Sergeant Hutchins): My son said, dad, you know, I'm not in Iraq anymore. I'm at Camp Pendleton. And then he told me they were under investigation for the death of a civilian.

BOWMAN: The Marine Corps has charged the 22-year-old Hutchins and seven others in his squad with murdering Hashim Awad, a 52-year-old man who was lame. Investigators say the alleged crime began when they couldn't find a suspected insurgent at his home.

Instead, the Marines went to a house at random, burst in and dragged out Awad in front of his family. The charges say they shot him and then doctored the scene with a shovel and an AK-47. Then the Marines reported they killed an insurgent. Investigators also say that Hutchins urged his men to lie about what happened.

Hutchins says his son has told him nothing about that day, but his son also told him not to believe anything he hears. Hutchins says his son and the other Marines must have been doing their duty.

Mr. HUTCHINS: I honestly believe they were doing their job and that his men and him were definitely, you know, under some kind of a, you know, situation that had to be dealt with for whatever reason.

BOWMAN: The family has hired a lawyer, Rich Brannon, who has met with the sergeant. Brannon said in a brief interview that he could not respond to questions. He is still reviewing the charges and is trying to get the statements of Iraqi witnesses. Sergeant Hutchins went to Iraq in January and his father says he was constantly on the move, patrolling, searching houses and buildings in al-Anbar Province. The Sunni dominated region is known as the most dangerous part of the war torn country.

Mr. HUTCHINS: They were out in front doing this for months. I mean, house to house, room to room, building to building, village to village. I mean, they weren't people who were in the background. His squad and everything were out front, all the time. There was never anything about any crazy things that they did or anything. So, I just can't believe that something happened like this without a reason.

BOWMAN: In his phone calls home, the sergeant talked about the endless patrols and the constant uncertainty. They would pass farmers on a dusty road who seemed so peaceful - before they turned to fire at the Marines. He worried most about the safety of his men.

Mr. HUTCHINS: And he used to say, dad, I have to worry about my guys all the time. We're out on patrol. I'm always worried about my men.

BOWMAN: As a teenager, Sergeant Hutchins played baseball and wrestled at Plymouth South High School. He coached basketball to kids at the youth center and on the school bus he would tell Reyna Griffin(ph) about his dreams of joining the Marines.

Ms. REYNA GRIFFIN (Sergeant Hutchins fiancé): He felt that he should carry on the family tradition and he really wanted to be a Marine and that's what he is at heart.

BOWMAN: The two now have a toddler named Kylie and they planned on getting married in August. Reyna says the plans have been put on hold. She will visit her fiancé this weekend in the Marine brig.

Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington.

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