The military's highest court has overturned a murder conviction against a Camp Pendleton Marine in one of the most significant cases against American troops from the Iraq war.
The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces on Wednesday threw out the conviction of Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III. Hutchins will be released from prison, after serving half his sentence.
Miramar Brig is where Hutchins has spent most of his time behind bars and he could be released in a matter of days.
According to the ruling posted on the court's website, the judges agreed with Hutchins, who claimed his constitutional rights were violated when he was held in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer for seven days during his interrogation.
Hutchins led an eight-man squad accused of kidnapping a retired Iraqi policeman from his home in April 2006, marching him to a ditch and shooting him to death in Hamdania.
The squad's other members served less than 18 months.
In all the years of fighting this case, Hutchins has been incarcerated, granted clemency, denied it by the Navy secretary, released for 8 months and taken back to the brig.
By most accounts this decision, from the military's highest court, will stick.
“As much as he's served, six and a half years, it's likely this is the end of the case,” former Judge Advocate Douglas Brown said.
Despite the vicious nature of the crime, former Brown says in the court of public opinion Hutchins served his time.
“There is a lot of sympathy for the men and women that serve in the armed forces . If they can get a break I think a lot of people are willing to give them a break,” Brown said.
“For seven days they kept interrogating him and investigating,” Judge Advocate John Schweitzer said.
Schweitzer says Military Justice used statements made without the benefit of council against Hutchins, that's why the conviction was overturned.
“The reason why they think they don't have access because somewhere they have heard they don't have the right to council until one is detailed to them,” Schweitzer said.
Schweitzer hopes this doesn't send the wrong message but instead affords servicemen and women the same due process in combat they are entitled to in the U.S.
Hutchins will walk away a free man with a criminal history wiped clean but that's not all.
Schweitzer says with this decision, the former sergeant is entitled to back pay and other benefits worth more than a quarter million dollars, reinstatement in the marines or an honorable discharge.