The attorney for Marine Corps 2nd Lt. Ilario Pantano yesterday waived his client’s right to a pretrial hearing on murder charges and demanded a speedy court-martial to force the government to prove its case.
The move by lawyer Charles Gittins came the same day the Marine Corps command at Camp Lejeune, N.C., set a pretrial, or Article 32, hearing for April 25.
Lt. Pantano’s mother, Merry K. Pantano, issued a statement saying the waiver was filed because the prosecution is withholding evidence and because the Marines have put restrictions on the witnesses he can call. The defense team wants a military judge knowledgeable about the rules of evidence to hear the case at a trial.
A Marine infantry officer is scheduled to preside at the Article 32 hearing.
In February, the Marines charged Lt. Pantano with two counts of premeditated murder for shooting two Iraqi insurgents in the back on April 15, 2004.
Lt. Pantano said in an interview with The Washington Times that he fired his M-16 multiple times only after the two Iraqis moved toward him and refused his shout in Arabic to stop. It turned out the two, who were fleeing a bomb-making house in the Triangle of Death south of Baghdad, were unarmed.
Mr. Gittins has disputed the charge that the two were shot in the back. He says they were shot multiple times and that the back wounds could be from exiting bullets or that the force of the first shots could have twisted them around.
The Marines were not able to recover the two Iraqis’ bodies from a cemetery that was being used as an insurgent base of operations. An internal Naval Criminal Investigative Service report said the area was too dangerous to retrieve the bodies for an autopsy.
Lt. Pantano’s plight has won him the support of pro-military groups across the nation and from some talk radio hosts. After the September 11 terror attacks, he quit his civilian job in Manhattan and rejoined the Marine Corps, where he had served in the early 1990s.
He won an officer’s commission and was leading a platoon in the violent Sunni Triangle in 2004 when he shot the two insurgents. The Marine sergeant in the platoon who complained about the shooting and prompted the investigation had been fired by Lt. Pantano as a squad leader.
Mrs. Pantano said her son’s unit, the 2nd Marine Division, is scheduled to return to Iraq in June.
“Many of the witnesses that will be requested by Lt. Pantano to support him are senior members from this unit and would probably be unavailable to testify if deployed,” her statement said.
She also said the Marines had refused to give the defense team the rules of engagement in effect at the time and other evidence.