Judge says burden is on government in Hadithah case
03-24-2010 09:11 AM
CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — A military judge indicated Tuesday that the burden is on the government to show there was no unlawful command influence in a case involving the deaths of 24 Iraqi men, women and children, a defense attorney said.
The judge, Lt. Col. David Jones, said he will rule Friday on a motion to drop charges against Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, the only remaining defendant in the biggest case against U.S. troops to arise from the Iraq war.
Jones determined the defense met its burden to show unlawful influence by a military lawyer who investigated the November 2005 killings in the town of Hadithah and later became a top aide to the general overseeing the case, said defense attorney Haytham Faraj.
Military policy would prohibit the aide, Col. John Ewers, from offering legal advice on Hadithah because he had been an investigator on the case.
Gen. James Mattis, who brought charges against Wuterich and seven other Marines in the Hadithah killings, has acknowledged that Ewers sat in on meetings in 2007 to discuss alleged wartime abuses but insists the aide never gave him advice on the Hadithah case. Gen. Samuel Helland, who ordered the court-martial against Wuterich as Mattis' successor, was also at some of those meetings.
The government will have an opportunity Wednesday to present any additional evidence. Prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was no unlawful influence.
Wuterich, 30, faces charges of voluntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, dereliction of duty and obstruction of justice. He is currently assigned to administrative work at 1st Marine Division headquarters at Camp Pendleton.
The deaths occurred after a roadside bomb hit a Marine convoy, killing the driver of a Humvee and wounding two other Marines.
Wuterich and a squad member were accused of shooting five men by a car at the scene. Investigators say Wuterich, of Meriden, Conn., then ordered his men to clear several houses with grenades and gunfire. Women and children were left among the dead.
At his preliminary hearing, Wuterich said he regretted the loss of civilian lives but believed he was operating within military combat rules when he ordered his men to attack.
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