Southern California -- this just in

« Previous Post | L.A. NOW Home | Next Post »

Two Marines to face discharge after lying about Iraq killings

April 19, 2012 |  9:43 pm

receStaff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, left, with attorney Neal Puckett
The secretary of the Navy has ordered the Marine Corps to begin administrative proceedings to discharge two Marines from Camp Pendleton who admitted to lying to investigators about the killing of 24 unarmed civilians in Haditha, Iraq, in 2005.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus ordered the proceedings against  Sgt. Humberto Mendoza and Sgt. Sanick Dela Cruz because they gave false accounts to investigators about what led Marines to kill the civilians, according to accounts Thursday by the Associated Press and the Marine Corps Times.

"Such conduct is wholly inconsistent with the core values of the department of Navy," Mabus wrote to Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos in ordering separation proceedings against the two.

Dela Cruz also admitted to urinating on one of the bodies. He and Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, the squad leader, ordered five young men from a car and killed them just minutes after a roadside bomb killed one Marine and injured two others.

Wuterich, the last of eight Marines to have his case decided, pleaded guilty to one count of negligent dereliction of duty in the midst of his court martial on Jan. 23. He received no jail time but was dismissed from the Marine Corps with a general discharge.

Mabus waited until Wuterich's court martial was completed to review the case file to see if any Marines linked to the Haditha killings should be dismissed, according to the Associated Press and the Marine Corps Times.

Dela Cruz was initially charged with unpremeditated murder but the charge was dropped in exchange for his testimony against Wuterich. Mendoza was not charged.

Removing the two from the Marine Corps "is in the best interest of the service," Mabus wrote.

Dela Cruz was a corporal on Nov. 19, 2005, when the killings occured in the Euphrates River community of Haditha. Mendoza  was a private first-class.

Of the eight Haditha defendants, six had charges dropped, and one was acquitted. Only Wuterich was convicted. Although charges against him were dropped, the battalion commander was forced into early retirement.

Among the dead were seven children, three women and a 76-year-old man in a wheelchair. Five college-age men were  were pulled from a car and killed; the others were killed in three houses that Marines swept through after Wuterich gave the order to "shoot first and ask questions later."

Prosecutors asserted that the Marines did not have the "positive identification" necessary to storm the houses in search of gunmen.

At Wuterich's court martial, Dela Cruz testified that he and Wuterich shot the five and that he then urinated on one body out of anger for the death minutes earlier of a Marine.

"My emotions got the best of me," he said.


Man found on fire in Altadena had been bound, police say

Prosecutor seeks public's help in solving Marine wife's slaying

Financial manager who bilked celebrities gets five years in prison

 -- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, left, arrives at Camp Pendleton on Jan. 5 with lead defense attorney Neal Puckett. Credit: Lenny Ignelzi / Associated Press