Marines' Charges Expected This Week

December 19th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Marines' Charges Expected This Week

San Diego Union-Tribune
December 19, 2006
Servicemen accused of killing 24 Iraqis
By Rick Rogers, Staff Writer
A group of Camp Pendleton Marines will be charged Thursday in the killings of 24 civilians in Haditha, Iraq, several defense attorneys said yesterday.
Five to eight members of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment are expected to face counts of murder or negligent homicide. They are accused of committing a massacre on Nov. 19, 2005, after one of their buddies – Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas – died in a roadside bomb explosion.
Their actions, if proven true, would constitute the United States' most serious war crime reported since the Iraq conflict began almost four years ago.
In addition, as many as three officers might face charges for allegedly covering up or not fully investigating the incident. One of them is 31-year-old Capt. Lucas M. McConnell of Napa, who was commanding officer of Kilo Company but didn't travel with the unit at the time.
McConnell heard from a superior that he will be charged with dereliction of duty, said Kevin McDermott, his civilian attorney.
“My client has been trying all day to get the details of the charge against him,” McDermott said yesterday evening. “Is it failure to train his troops properly or failure to do an investigation? We are just really unsure.”
Neal Puckett, who represents Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich of Meriden, Conn., said he learned yesterday that charges are coming against rank-and-file members of the squad.
Puckett said Wuterich, 26, the senior Marine present during the alleged three-hour killing spree, was ordered to return early from leave to sign papers at Camp Pendleton on Thursday morning.
“We both know that they want him to sign his charge sheets,” he said.
The Marine Corps is not ready to confirm charges or indicate when they'll be filed, said Lt. Col. Sean Gibson, a spokesman at Camp Pendleton.
Once the counts are lodged, Puckett said, it wouldn't make sense to lock up the suspects in Camp Pendleton's brig.
“They are neither a flight risk nor a danger to themselves or others,” he said.
Gary Myers, who represents Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt, 22, from Carbondale, Pa., agreed that pretrial confinement would be inappropriate.
The Marines being investigated “have been serving faithfully for 13 months,” Myers said. “I mean, what is the point?”
Other suspects in the case include Cpl. Sanick Dela Cruz, 24, of Chicago; Cpl. Hector Salinas, 22, of Houston; and Lance Cpl. Stephen B. Tatum, 25, of Edmund, Okla.
All of the servicemen have insisted that they had no choice but to counter insurgents attacking them with small-arms fire from a nearby house. Some of their attorneys have said the civilians' deaths were the tragic result of a unit simply following the military's wartime rules of engagement.
The Haditha killings didn't cause alarm among top Pentagon officials until Time magazine began questioning them in January based on accusations from Haditha residents and human-rights groups.
After the publication ran a story about the incident, the Department of Defense authorized dozens of military agents to conduct two major investigations into the matter.
The investigators have since said the suspects shot to death 19 people in several houses and five men in a taxi that reached the Marines' convoy after the roadside blast.
About 10 of the dead were women and children who appeared to be killed by rifle fire at close range, according to one probe. The other investigation focused on whether officers in the suspects' chain of command attempted to falsify details of the incident.
The Haditha case is not related to a killing in Hamdaniya, Iraq, that involves other Camp Pendleton servicemen.
In that case, seven Marines and a Navy corpsman are accused of abducting and executing a civilian in Hamdaniya on April 26. Four have pleaded guilty to charges lesser than murder as part of their plea bargains. The remaining defendants are scheduled for trial next year.

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