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Family backs accused Marine

Say government is using sergeant as a scapegoat

PLYMOUTH -- The family of Marine Sergeant Lawrence G. Hutchins III , one of eight military personnel charged in the death of an Iraqi civilian this week, staunchly defended his innocence yesterday, saying the 22-year-old would never commit such a cold-blooded act.

After speaking with Hutchins in a collect call from the brig at Camp Pendleton in California, the family said they are convinced that the government is trying to use him as scapegoat for just doing his job.

``It's just been a nightmare," said the Marine's father, Lawrence Hutchins Jr. ``I cannot believe it. I believe they were doing their job defending our country, and his life and the lives of his men were in danger."

Hutchins's fiancee, Reyna Griffin , 22, said she was stunned when she first picked up the phone and heard an automated voice saying the call was from prison.

``I expected a worse phone call, saying he's been injured or killed," she said, as she clutched the couple's 21-month-old daughter, Kylie, in her arms. ``I never expected anything like this. My life started crumbling before my eyes. This is my fiancé , the father of my child. He would never do anything like this."

The Pentagon Wednesday charged Hutchins, a 2002 graduate of Plymouth South High School, along with six other Marines and a Navy corpsman with the kidnapping and slaying of 52-year-old Hashim Ibrahim Awad , an unarmed Iraqi civilian from Hamdania, a Sunni village about 50 miles west of Baghdad. The men are accused of pulling Awad out of his house on April 26, binding his hands and feet and shooting him without provocation.

The investigation into the death of the Iraqi man is among several US military inquiries into the alleged killings of Iraqi civilians, including one involving the deaths of as many as 24 people -- including women and children -- in the town of Haditha last November.

Hutchins' s charge sheet alleges that he unlawfully entered Awad's property, helped to kidnap him, forced him to the ground and participated in his murder.

The men are also accused of conspiracy and making false statements in an effort to cover up the circumstances of the death. The defendants reportedly claimed they had caught Awad in the act of setting a roadside bomb. They are accused of planting an AK-47 and a shovel near his body to create the impression that he had been an insurgent.

It is a charge his family vehemently denies.

``Sergeant Hutchins is a good man and a good Marine," said his fiancée. ``He told us that there was an incident, but it is not at all what they are portraying. The accusations are a lie."

Hutchins is also being charged with two counts of obstruction of justice, alleging he ``did wrongfully endeavor to impede an investigation," according to military documents.

``The Marine Corps takes allegations of wrongdoing by Marines very seriously and is committed to thoroughly investigating such allegations," said Colonel Stewart Navarre during a press conference Wednesday announcing the charges at Camp Pendleton, where the eight defendants from the First Marine Division are being held in a brig.

In addition to Hutchins, the men were identified as Navy Hospital Corpsman Third Class Melson J. Bacos , Marine Lance Corporal Tyler A. Jackson , Marine Private First Class John J. Jodka , Marine Corporal Marshall L. Magincalda , Marine Lance Corporal Robert B. Pennington, Marine Lance Corporal Jerry E. Shumate Jr. , and Marine Corporal Trent D. Thomas .

In the quiet neighborhood near the White Horse Beach where Hutchins often worked as a lifeguard, the family is rallying together preparing for a legal battle that could cost well over $100,000, the Marine's father said. All eight men have secured civilian lawyers and the families have connected via the Internet and conference calls, and together have created a legal defense fund.

After graduating from high school, Hutchins decided to follow the footsteps of his father and grandfather, joining the Marines nearly four years ago, his father said.

``When he went, I told him, `Larry, you are not here anymore. Watch yourself and mind your business,'" the elder Hutchins recalled.

The Hutchins family has joined the other men's families protesting the conditions of their confinement as unduly harsh. Until a week ago, the defendants were being kept in solitary confinement, with their legs shackled, hands cuffed, and with lights on for 24-hours at the brig in Camp Pendleton, the elder Hutchins said. ``I am outraged by the way he's being treated," he said.

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