No Deal in Haditha Court-Martial

Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich faces nine counts of manslaughter and other charges

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AP
    Wuterich seen outside an earlier hearing.

    Despite hints a plea bargain was in the works in the court-martial of Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, testimony resumed Friday with a warning from the judge not to speculate on why the trial was interrupted for a day and a half.

    Wuterich faces nine counts of manslaughter and other charges stemming from attacks that killed 24 Iraqis in the town of Haditha in 2005.

    Military prosecutors have implicated the Camp Pendleton Marine from Meriden, Conn., in 19 of the 24 Iraqi deaths.

    He is the last defendant in one of the biggest criminal cases against U.S. troops from the war.

    One squad member was acquitted. Six others had their cases dropped. One was never formally charged.

    On Friday, Sgt. Humberto Mendoza restated testimony from Wednesday afternoon that he saw a woman and children in the house that he had entered with Wuterich and another Marine.

    "The assumption is that there's a threat here," Wuterich’s attorney asked Mendoza, who had opened fire in the house.

    "Yes sir," Mendoza answered

    Mendoza's testimony appears to strongly support the defense's position that the occupants of the house were seen as a threat and that it was appropriate for the squad to open fire on those occupants.

    Yet under questioning from the prosecution, Mendoza acknowledged that he was told by superiors that he should assume there were civilians in those homes, and that it was not allowable to kill numerous civilians in order to kill or capture an enemy sniper.

    Mendoza said that he lied in an earlier interview with NCIS, in which he made statements designed to protect Wuterich and his fellow Marines.

    He said he has since realized that he cannot cover up what happened that day.

    Mendoza said Wuterich never acknowledged that women and children may have been killed in the first house they fired on or that his squad should stop and consider its tactics and use of force before entering other houses and firing.

    Mendoza said that when the Marines entered a second house, there was no discussion of civilians inside, and that they had never been the target of any enemy fire from those houses.
    On further questioning from the defense, Mendoza said he did believe there was a "reasonable threat" coming from those houses.

    He also said he didn't know what "collateral damage assessment" or how it could be done, and didn't receive training on that until later in his military career.

    Mendoza believes he was engaged in legitimate combat, for which he was decorated that day, and that Sgt. Wuterich was equally involved in that same combat.

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