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Marine gets no jail time in killing of 24 Iraqi civilians

January 24, 2012 |  3:11 pm

Sgt. Frank Wuterich will not face jail time in Haditha killings
Marine Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich will serve no time in the brig for his guilty plea in the killing of 24 Iraqis in 2005, a military judge said Tuesday.

The announcement by Lt. Col. David Jones came after a sentencing hearing at Camp Pendleton in which Wuterich took responsibility for the killings and expressed his remorse to the families of those killed.

Jones said the plea bargain approved by Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser called for no jail time.

Jones said that he planned to recommend 90 days in the brig, the maximum as requested by the prosecution, but that Waldhauser's approval of the details of the plea bargain trumps that recommendation.

“Words cannot express my sorrow for the loss of your loved ones,” Wuterich said in an apology to the family members of the 24 Iraqis killed by Marines. “I know there is nothing I can say to ease your pain.”

Wuterich said he takes responsibility for what happened when, as the squad leader, 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, after a roadside bomb had killed one Marine and injured two others.

“When my Marines and I cleared those houses that day, I responded to what I perceived as a threat and my intention was to eliminate that threat in order to keep the rest of my Marines alive,” Wuterich said in a strong voice.

“So when I told my team to ‘shoot first and ask questions later,’ the intent wasn’t that they would shoot civilians, it was that they would not hesitate in the face of the enemy.”

On Monday, in the middle of his court-martial, Wuterich pleaded guilty to negligent dereliction of duty, in exchange for other charges being dropped. Prosecutors had asked Jones to impose the maximum penalty of 90 days in the brig for the killings.

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

No comment was made at the hearings Monday or Tuesday about what kind of discharge Wuterich will receive.

Jones said he will recommend that Wuterich be reduced to a private, a recommendation that will be reviewed by Waldhauser, the commander of Marine Forces Central Command and the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.


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Photo: Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, left, arrives with his attorney for a court session at Camp Pendleton on Tuesday. Photo: Chris Carlson / Associated Press