MERIDEN, Conn. -- A Marine who was convicted in the 2005 killings of unarmed Iraqis returned home this weekend to Connecticut for a golf tournament organized by local veterans for his benefit.
Former Marine Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich told the Record-Journal of Meriden on August 18 that some people think prosecutors let a child-killer go free. He says that's absolutely not the case.
"It wasn't the military letting off a murderer, rampager," he said.
In February, he received a general discharge under honorable conditions -- one step below an honorable discharge. Wuterich was the only Marine convicted in the killings in Haditha.
Wuterich, who grew up in Meriden but now lives in California, pleaded guilty to negligent dereliction of duty as the leader of the squad that killed 24 Iraqis. He apologized for the loss of life but said his squad did not behave dishonorably.
Local veterans, including golf tournament organizer Chip Geriak, have rallied around Wuterich and criticized the military, which they say has given Wuterich a bad deal.
Geriak said the decision to hold the golf tournament in Portland for Wuterich was unanimous among the tournament committee.
"He's got three daughters, and he's a single father. We felt for the guy," Geriak said. "He gave a lot of years of his life to this country, and he deserves some recognition and some help."
The tournament was organized by veterans groups including the Polish Legion of American Veterans, the American Legion and Marine Corps League Silver City Detachment.
Bill Zelinsky, commander of the Polish Legion Sons Detachment, said combat veterans he's spoken with don't find fault with Wuterich's actions in Haditha.
"Any of the veterans in this club that I spoke to said they would have handled the situation the same way Frank did," Zelinsky said. "I have to believe he did the right thing."
Wuterich's rank was reduced to private as part of a plea deal that abruptly ended his manslaughter court martial at Camp Pendleton and spared him prison time. He defended his order to raid homes in Haditha saying he believed his squad was under attack. He acknowledged he instructed his men to "shoot first, ask questions later."
His case ended a six-year prosecution that failed to win any manslaughter convictions. Eight Marines were initially charged in the case. One was acquitted and six others had their cases dropped.
The outcome of the case sparked outrage in Iraq.
Wuterich said he is grateful for the support in Meriden.