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IRAQ: Haditha case dwindles with innocent verdict

June 5, 2008 | 11:52 am

Getprev1 The prosecution case against eight Marines accused in the killing of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha has now dwindled to just two defendants, with no convictions or guilty pleas.

With the Wednesday acquittal of Lt. Andrew Grayson by a jury of seven officers at Camp Pendleton, the prosecution of six of the defendants is now complete.

Of the four enlisted Marines initially charged with murdering men, women and children, three have had the charges thrown out.

The fourth, Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, is still set for court-martial, but the military-judge at his preliminary hearing has written that he doubts a conviction is possible because of lack of forensic evidence and unreliable statements by witnesses. No date has been set for the trial as prosecutors seek to force CBS to deliver unbroadcast parts of a "60 Minutes" interview with Wuterich.

Of four officers accused of dereliction for not ordering a full-scale war crimes investigation into the November 2005 killings, two have had charges thrown out. Grayson, an intelligence officer, was the first defendant to go to trial.

In July, unless the judge rules in favor of a defense motion claiming undue command influence, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, the battalion commander, is set for court martial. Chessani, who was on his third tour in Iraq, provided information about the killings to his chain of command, but prosecutors say he should have been quicker and more complete in explaining the incident.

How the Grayson verdict may influence the Chessani and Wuterich cases is unknown. Military rules prohibit interviews with prosecutors. The Grayson case jurors are not talking.

Chessani's lawyers see the Grayson verdict as a harbringer of what will happen if their client goes to trial: that Marine-jurors with combat experience in Iraq will not second-guess one of their own if it means branding him as a criminal.

-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Bodies of some of the Iraqis killed in Haditha, Nov. 19, 2005. Credit: Lucian Reed/Atlas Press

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