If a Marine makes a plea deal to cut short a trial on charges he killed innocent people in Iraq, has he been exonerated?
Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich of Meriden, Conn., led the Marine squad in 2005 that killed 24 Iraqis in the town of Haditha after a roadside bomb exploded near a Marine convoy, killing one Marine. Wuterich had told those under his command to shoot first and ask questions later.
According to the Associated Press:
Prosecutors said he lost control after seeing the body of his friend blown apart by the bomb and led his men on a rampage in which they stormed two nearby homes, blasting their way in with gunfire and grenades. Among the dead were women, children and elderly, including a man in a wheelchair.
The most serious charges were dropped against Wuterich, leaving only a single “derelection of duty” charge.
The sergeant could have received life in prison had his trial proceeded. Instead, he’ll serve three months in confinement.
After the deal, his attorney let loose on the media:
“No one denies that the events … were tragic, most of all Frank Wuterich,” defense attorney Neal Puckett told the North County Times. “But the fact of the matter is that he has now been totally exonerated of the homicide charges brought against him by the government and the media. For the last six years, he has had his name dragged through the mud. Today, we hope, is the beginning of his redemption.”
Puckett’s comments mirror those on a website set up to raise money for Wuterich, which claimed the charges were the result of “media bias.”
Three years ago, he told his story to 60 Minutes:
Last month, the New York Times discovered many of the documents from interviews with Marines in Haditha that might’ve been used in the trial, in a junkyard.
(Photo: Maliya Abdul Hamid Hassan Ali, whose father and other relatives had been allegedly killed in a fatal U.S. Marines raid, shows the picture of her mother Khameesa Toama Ali, age 65, who was killed in the raid. Photo by Akram Saleh/Getty Images)