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Hearing Closes for Marine Accused of Killing Iraqis

A Marine (search) accused of murdering two Iraqi detainees intended to make an example of them by shooting them 60 times and hanging a sign over their bodies, prosecutors said Saturday during closing arguments in a pretrial hearing.

"There's no other reason why this stellar lieutenant would have used such poor judgment," prosecutor Maj. Stephen Keane (search) said. "It is not up to a 2nd lieutenant to violate the law of war and make an example of people he believes are bad."

Prosecutors allege that 2nd Lt. Ilario Pantano (search) killed the suspected insurgents in April 2004 after ordering a search of their car. Pantano, a former Wall Street trader who rejoined the Marines after the Sept. 11 attacks, says he acted in self-defense after the men moved toward him.

"Lt. Pantano has told this to virtually every person who asked him," defense attorney Charles Gittins said in his closing statement. "He did exactly what he was required to do under the circumstances."

Pantano declined to make a statement in court after consulting with his lawyers.

The Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a civilian grand jury, will determine whether Pantano, 33, will face a court-martial. If convicted of murder, he could get the death penalty.

The investigating officer has been given at least a week to make his recommendations.

The five-day hearing came to a close Saturday after Pantano's chief accuser returned to the stand following several days of legal wrangling.

Sgt. Daniel Coburn abruptly left the stand Wednesday when he was told he was suspected of violating orders prohibiting him from giving media interviews about the case. He returned to the stand Saturday after being granted immunity from prosecution.

Coburn testified Saturday that he believed the men were going to be brought in for questioning when Pantano ordered the search of their car.

However, Coburn also acknowledged that Pantano had stripped him of his job as squad leader and elevated a lower-ranking Marine to replace him. He said he believed his last evaluation, written by Pantano and reviewed by two higher-ranking officers, was a "career-ender."

Coburn said he hadn't seen the evaluation before he began to question Pantano's actions.