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Marine charged in Haditha killings wins key ruling from judge

Wuterich The defense for the last Marine facing criminal charges in the fatal shooting of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha in 2005 won a key ruling Tuesday that could lead to the case being dropped.

Lt. Col. David Jones, the military judge, ruled that attorneys for Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich had successfully shown that there was the possibility of what the military calls undue command influence in the decision by a general to send Wuterich to a court martial.

Jones' ruling requires that prosecutors prove beyond a reasonable doubt that no such influence existed or that, while it may have existed, it did not influence the general's decision.

Faced with a similar ruling in the case of another Marine charged in the Haditha killings, prosecutors could not meet the burden of proof to the judge's satisfaction. After losing an appeal, the Marine Corps dismissed charges against Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani.

Jones set a hearing for Wednesday to hear any evidence prosecutors want to present. Maj. Nicholas Gannon, one of the prosecutors, said he was "99.9% sure" that he has no further evidence.

During the two-day hearing at Camp Pendleton, Gen. James Mattis and retired Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland testified that their decisions to charge Wuterich were not improperly influenced. Jones promised to issue his ruling Friday afternoon.

If he rules against the prosecution, he could dismiss the charges against Wuterich, which include manslaughter, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, dereliction of duty and obstruction of justice.

He could also order the Marine Corps to hold a new preliminary hearing for Wuterich or assign the case to a general not "tainted" by the alleged undue influence. In that event, the Marine Corps could decide to drop the case, as it did with Chessani.

Jones said he was troubled by the fact that a lawyer who had been part of an early investigation into the Haditha killings later sat in on staff meetings where the Wuterich case was discussed. He also noted the fact that another lawyer advising the generals did not recuse himself from all aspects of the Haditha case after a run-in with the preliminary hearing judge for one of the defendants.

Wuterich, 30, showed no emotion when Jones issued his ruling.

Neal Puckett, one of Wuterich's attorneys, said his client "is in good spirits. He hasn't complained at all. He loves the Marine Corps and wants to make it a career."

Another of his attorneys, Haytham Faraj, said it was to the Marine Corps' credit that Mattis was ordered to undergo cross-examination about the case.

Of eight Marines charged in late 2006 in connection with the killings, six had their cases dismissed and one was found not guilty. Wuterich was the squad leader when Marines began searching nearby buildings after a roadside bomb killed one Marine and injured two.

Five Iraqis were killed by the Marines near the blast, and 19 others were killed in three houses. None was ever shown to have insurgent ties or to have been involved in the bomb blast.

-- Tony Perry at Camp Pendleton

Photo: Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (7)

Funny how when street criminals get off the hook on such technicalities. But since this is the military, it is accepted with silence. First Blackwater, and now this. Apparently, if you are in Iraq, civilians' lives are worthless, and you can kill anyone with impunity, as long as you wear a uniform.

Good! let this man go on with his life....

This man is a murderer not a war hero, a true soldier obeys the orders given to him by his commanding officers, The US Military is no place of vigilantes who rape and pillage foreign citizens for thier amusement.
At this rate America stands for anything but freedom or justice, if anything stop playing world policeman and restrict our military crimminals to American soil.
Your a fool if you think might makes right.

if you are sent to war, any body else's life, who is not on your side, should be wothless. have you ever been in a war zone?

...i would say that if you had never ever been in the military or had combat experience you leave judgment to the the military courts.... as a former Marine, the killing is the easy part,the forgetting is the hard part!.....SEMPER FI!!

Praise the Lord! Hopefully, this nightmare will soon end for this proud, young Marine. I pray that he and his family can quickly reclaim some sense of sanity after this ordeal.

How sad that John Murtha has passed. It would have been so delicious to jam the upcoming dismissal square in his lorry-sized backside.


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