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Murder Charge Dropped in Haditha Case
Associated Press  |  January 02, 2008
LOS ANGELES - A Marine who prosecutors alleged led squadmates in the killing of 24 Iraqi civilians will be tried for voluntary manslaughter, but has been spared facing murder charges.

Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, one eight Marines accused in the biggest U.S. criminal case involving civilian deaths to come out of the Iraq war, will also stand trial for reckless endangerment, dereliction of duty and obstruction of justice. No trial date has been set.

More serious charges of unpremeditated murder, as well as charges of soliciting another to commit an offense and making a false official statement in connection with the 2005 killings in the town of Haditha, were dismissed by the Marine Corps.

Wuterich, 27, was part of a group of eight Marines charged in connection with the killings, which occurred on Nov. 19, 2005, shortly after roadside bomb hit a Marine convoy, killing the driver of a Humvee and wounding two other Marines. Four enlisted Marines were initially charged with murder in the case and four officers were charged with failing to investigate the deaths. Wuterich is the last of the enlisted Marines to be referred to court-martial.

Charges against several of the men - including two of the other enlisted Marines - have been dropped or dismissed, and none will face murder charges.

Wuterich's attorney, Mark Zaid, said his client was "disappointed but prepared" for the general's decision and said Wuterich would plead not guilty at his arraignment early in January.

"We remain completely optimistic that he will be acquitted," Zaid said.

The Marine Corps also announced Monday that one of the officers, 1st Lt. Andrew Grayson, would face court-martial on charges of making false official statements, obstruction of justice and attempting to fraudulently separate from the Marine Corps.

Grayson's attorney, Joseph Casas, said the government was "grasping at straws" by pursuing charges against his client.

Grayson, an intelligence officer, was not present at the scene of the killings, but is accused of telling a sergeant to delete photographs of the dead from his digital camera.

Authorities maintain that after the bombing, Wuterich and a squad member, Sgt. Sanick Dela Cruz, allegedly shot five men by a car at the scene. Wuterich then ordered his men into several houses, where they cleared rooms with grenades and gunfire, killing unarmed civilians in the process.

Dela Cruz was granted immunity in exchange for his testimony against the other Marines.

At his preliminary hearing, Wuterich said that he regretted the loss of civilian life but that he believed he was coming under fire from the homes and was operating within the rules of engagement when he ordered his men to assault the buildings.

Wuterich faces a sentence of up to 160 years in prison if convicted of all counts, Marine spokesman Lt. Col. Sean Gibson said, though experts say such an outcome is extremely unlikely.

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