The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces has overturned the murder conviction of a Marine sergeant found guilty of killing an Iraqi civilian.
Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III was found guilty in a case that dates back to 2006, when Hutchins and a group of troops went to a house in Hamdania, a city west of Baghdad. They were looking for a suspected insurgent, but, as NPR reported in 2006, when they did not find him, prosecutors allege they took another Iraqi man and shot him dead, leaving a shovel and an AK-47 to make him look like an insurgent.
Reuters reports that Hutchins confessed to the crime, but the highest military appeals court threw out that confession on Wednesday, saying it was obtained illegally.
"In its ruling on Wednesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces said that in May 2006, a Navy investigator began to question Hutchins but he invoked his right to an attorney and was put under guard in a trailer.
"Hutchins was not allowed to call a lawyer and no attorney was provided to him, according to the ruling written by Judge Charles Erdmann. Seven days later, the investigator entered the trailer and asked to search Hutchins' belongings and the sergeant said he wanted to talk, the ruling stated.
"The next day, Hutchins provided a written confession, the ruling continued. The court found that after Hutchins requested an attorney the investigator had initiated the conversation — by coming back for a search. That led to Hutchins' admission and the judge and two colleagues found that it violated his constitutional right to remain silent."
The Associated Press reports that Hutchins has already served five years of his 11-year sentence. It is unclear when he will be released; Hutchins' lawyer told the AP he's expecting a release in days.