Trial of accused Haditha ringleader resumes without plea deal

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 20, 2012 6:28 PM
Trial of accused Haditha ringleader resumes without plea deal

By Marty Graham

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif (Reuters) - The court-martial of a U.S. Marine sergeant accused of leading a 2005 massacre of civilians in the Iraqi city of Haditha resumed on Friday without a plea deal, suggesting that court-sanctioned negotiations toward such an agreement had stalled.

Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich, 31, is charged with voluntary manslaughter, aggravated assault and dereliction of duty stemming from the November 2005 deaths of two dozen Iraqi civilians in Haditha, a city west of Baghdad that was then an insurgent hotspot.

That incident, which brought international condemnation on U.S. troops, was portrayed by Iraqi witnesses as a massacre of unarmed civilians. Local witnesses said Marines killed two dozen men, women and children after a popular comrade, Lance Corporal Miguel "TJ" Terrazas, was killed by a roadside bomb.

Wuterich, the most senior of the troops on the ground, pleaded not guilty when the trial began in early January. His trial was abruptly halted on Wednesday when the judge, Lieutenant Colonel David Jones, told defense lawyers and the government to explore other options.

The resumption of the trial seemed to indicate that those negotiations had broken down, although no mention was made in open court of the day-and-a-half delay or the talks. Prosecutors and defense attorneys both declined to comment.

Six out of the eight Marines originally charged in the case had their charges dismissed by military judges, and another was cleared. Wuterich, who initially faced murder charges, is the last of the group to face court proceedings.

A U.S. Marine spokesman at Camp Pendleton said the trial, initially projected to last one month, is now expected to run through mid-February.

(Writing by Mary Slosson; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)