- The Washington Times - Friday, August 10, 2007

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Marine Corps dropped all charges against a captain accused of failing to investigate the deaths of Iraqi 24 civilians, and another Marine accused in some of the killings, the service announced yesterday .

Capt. Randy W. Stone, 35, a battalion lawyer from Dunkirk, Md., was one of four officers charged with failing to adequately probe the deaths in Haditha.

“It is clear to me that any error of omission or commission by Capt. Stone does not warrant action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice,” Lt. Gen. James Mattis wrote.

The Corps also announced that charges were dismissed against Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt, who was accused of murdering three brothers in the assault that followed a deadly roadside bombing of U.S. troops in Iraq.

Four enlisted Marines and four officers were initially charged in the killings. Prosecutors dropped charges against one, Sgt. Sanick P. Dela Cruz of Chicago, who was charged with five counts of murder, and gave him immunity to testify against his squad mates.

The central figure in the case is squad leader Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich of Meriden, Conn., who faces 18 counts of murder. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for Aug. 22.

The other enlisted Marine, Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum of Edmond, Okla., attended a preliminary hearing, but no recommendation was made about whether he should stand trial for murder.

Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani of Rangely, Colo., is the only other officer aside from Capt. Stone who attended a preliminary hearing. The investigator in that case recommended that Col. Chessani face a general court-martial on charges of dereliction of duty for failing to investigate.

The two dozen Iraqis died after a roadside bomb killed Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas of El Paso, Texas, who was driving a Humvee.

In the aftermath of the blast, Marines shot a group of men by a car and then cleared several houses with grenades and gunfire. The Marines said they thought the houses were occupied by insurgents, but the victims included elderly people, women and children, including several who were slain in bed.

The decision to drop the charges against Cpl. Sharratt followed an earlier recommendation from Lt. Col. Paul Ware, a hearing officer.

“The government version is unsupported by independent evidence,” Col. Ware wrote. “To believe the government version of facts is to disregard clear and convincing evidence to the contrary.”

Prosecutors claimed Cpl. Sharratt and other members of his battalion assaulted the civilians in revenge. Cpl. Sharratt contended the Iraqi men he confronted were insurgents, and that at least one was holding an AK-47 rifle when he fired at them.

Col. Ware said prosecution of Cpl. Sharratt could set a “dangerous precedent that … may encourage others to bear false witness against Marines as a tactic to erode public support of the Marine Corps and its mission in Iraq.”

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