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Marine apologizes to families in Haditha killings

January 24, 2012 |  1:11 pm

Frank WuterichBefore he was to be sentenced Tuesday, a Marine read an apology to the family members of 24 unarmed Iraqis killed by his squad in 2005.

“Words cannot express my sorrow for the loss of your loved ones,” Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich said during a sentencing hearing at Camp Pendleton. “I know there is nothing I can say to ease your pain.”

Wuterich said he took responsibility for what happened when he ordered his Marines “to shoot first, ask questions later” as they stormed two houses in search of a gunman in the Euphrates River town of Haditha on Nov. 19, 2005.

“Even with the best of intentions, sometimes combat actions can cause tragic results,” he said, looking directly at the judge, Lt. Col. David Jones.

On Monday, Wuterich pleaded guilty to negligent dereliction of duty in exchange for other charges being dropped, including manslaughter and assault.

Prosecutors on Tuesday asked Jones to impose the maximum penalty of 90 days in the brig. Jones may render his decision when court resumes after a lunch break Tuesday afternoon.

Although he pleaded guilty, Wuterich insisted that “the truth is that I never fired my weapon at any women or children that day.”

After a roadside bomb killed a Marine and injured two, Marines in Wuterich’s squad killed 24 unarmed Iraqis, including three women and seven children.

“This was the horrific result of that order to ‘shoot first, ask questions later,’” said prosecutor Lt. Col. Sean Sullivan in asking Jones to impose the maximum sentence under the plea bargain.

Jones’ ruling will be a recommendation to Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, who has approved the plea bargain and will make the decision on how much, if any, time Wuterich should spend behind bars.

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-- Tony Perry

Photo: Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich. Credit: Associated Press.

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