- The Washington Times - Friday, October 5, 2007

SAN DIEGO (AP) — An investigating officer has recommended that the Marine at the center of the biggest prosecution of U.S. troops in the Iraq war should not stand trial on murder charges, a defense attorney said yesterday.

Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, 27, of Meriden, Conn., is charged with the unpremeditated murder of 17 Iraqis in 2005 in Haditha, a western city in Anbar province. The former squad leader purportedly directed his Marines in an assault that left 24 men, women and children dead.

Lt. Col. Paul Ware recommended that Sgt. Wuterich should be tried for the lesser offense of negligent homicide in the deaths of five children and two women, said Neal Puckett, Sgt. Wuterich’s attorney.

Col. Ware reviewed evidence against Sgt. Wuterich in a preliminary hearing known as an Article 32. His recommendation is nonbinding and the final decision about whether Sgt. Wuterich should stand trial rests with Lt. Gen. James Mattis, the commanding general overseeing the case.

If Gen. Mattis accepts the recommendation for Sgt. Wuterich and a similar one for one of his corporals, which appears likely based on past practice, no one will face murder charges in the biggest case involving Iraqi civilian deaths.

“We’re both very pleased and also not surprised, given how the other cases have gone,” Mr. Puckett said. “There has never been any inkling that any of these Marines lost control or went on a rampage.”

Of four enlisted Marines initially accused in the case, charges have been dropped against Sgt. Sanick Dela Cruz and Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt. Col. Ware also has recommended charges be dismissed against the third purported shooter, Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum. Charges also have been dropped against two of four officers accused of failing to investigate the incident.


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