The Marine Corps has denied four Marines accused of killing an Iraqi civilian the option of going straight to trial, a decision that defense lawyers claimed was a sign that prosecutors don't have a solid case.

The four are among seven Marines and a sailor accused of kidnapping and murdering an Iraqi civilian in the town of Hamdania last spring. All are in the brig at Camp Pendleton and could face the death penalty.

The men had been scheduled for Article 32 hearings, where a commanding officer determines if there is probable cause to bring a defendant to trial. But last week they asked to waive their right to the hearings and proceed straight to trial.

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Their attorneys argued the Article 32 hearings would be a "rubber stamp" and a waste of time and money because all charges would eventually be referred to courts-martial anyway.

But the Marine Corps said late Tuesday the accused must go to preliminary hearings. Camp Pendleton spokesman Lt. Col. Sean Gibson said the move was made "to make a fair and impartial decision on the disposition of these cases."

Some of the attorneys for the men were surprised with the decision.

"They are trying to buy themselves more time to finish an investigation which was incomplete to begin with," said Joseph Casas, who represents Lance Cpl. Jerry Shumate.

Attorney Victor Kelly, who represents Cpl. Trent Thomas, called the decision "profoundly unusual." The two other Marines that hoped to waive their hearings were Pfc. John Jodka III and Cpl. Marshall Magincalda.

The Marines are among eight service members alleged to have gone into Hamdania, taken a man from his home, tied him up and shot him without provocation April 26.

The Article 32 hearings for the eight men could start as soon as Aug 28.