By Marty Graham
CAMP PENDLETON, California (Reuters) - The court-martial of a Marine sergeant accused of leading a 2005 massacre of civilians in Haditha, Iraq, has been halted as prosecutors and defense attorneys apparently tried to negotiate a possible plea deal.
The trial of Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, 31, was first halted on Wednesday afternoon by the judge, Lt. Col. David Jones, who instructed defense lawyers and the government to negotiate with one another.
The trial was scheduled to resume on Thursday morning, but Jones again postponed the proceedings.
Prosecutors and defense did not respond to requests by Reuters for comment, and a U.S. Marine spokesman at Camp Pendleton said he had no information about a possible plea deal.
Wuterich, 31, is charged with voluntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, and dereliction of duty stemming from the November 19, 2005, death of two dozen Iraqi civilians in Haditha, a city west of Baghdad that was then an insurgent hotbed.
That incident was portrayed by Iraqi witnesses as a "massacre" of unarmed civilians, and brought international condemnation on U.S. troops.
Local witnesses claimed angry Marines killed two dozen men, women and children after a popular comrade, Lance Cpl. Miguel "TJ" Terrazas, was killed by a roadside bomb.
Wuterich pleaded not guilty when the trial began in early January.
"Everyone visualizes me as a monster, a baby killer, cold blooded," Wuterich told CBS' 60 Minutes in a 2008 interview. "That's not accurate and neither is the story that most of them know about this incident."
Wuterich initially faced murder charges.
Six out of the eight Marines originally charged in the case had their charges dismissed by military judges, and another was cleared.
Wuterich, the accused ring-leader, is the last of the group to face court proceedings.
(Additional reporting and writing by Mary Slosson, Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Dan Burns)