TOPEKA, Kansas – An Army officer who was cleared 10 months ago in the killings of three Iraqi civilians is facing new charges in two of the deaths.
Fort Riley prosecutors allege that 2nd Lt. Erick J. Anderson, 26, is responsible for deaths in 2004 that landed four of his soldiers in prison. Charges against Anderson include two counts of first-degree murder, conspiracy and making a false statement.
A hearing begins Wednesday to determine whether he must face a court-martial that could send him to prison for life, if he is found guilty.
Anderson, of Twinsburg, Ohio, led a platoon that deployed to Iraq in June 2004. The cases in which he's charged happened while his men were battling followers of a radical Shiite cleric near Sadr City two months later.
Prosecutors dropped charges against Anderson for the deaths in January, saying there wasn't enough evidence to prosecute him. But they left the investigation open.
His attorney, Neal Puckett, said Anderson may have been aware of the deaths of the civilians, but was in no way responsible for the criminal actions of men under his command.
In the first incident, the platoon fired on a truck carrying young Iraqis. Two staff sergeants were convicted of killing an Iraqi teenager who they said was suffering from fatal wounds. The soldiers described the event as a "mercy killing," and each served a year in prison.
The second incident happened only days later. A sergeant was sentenced to life in prison for the deaths of two Iraqi civilians, and a specialist was sentenced to five years.
Puckett said he believes the new charges, lodged in mid-October, are partly the result of statements made by some of the convicted soldiers.
"There ought to be some pretty damning eyewitnesses before you charge him with murder by proxy, which is what we have here," Puckett said.