CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – A Marine appeared in a military court Wednesday but did not enter a plea on a manslaughter charge for his alleged involvement in the killing of 24 Iraqi men, women and children.
Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich will appear for another hearing Feb. 25 in a case that has become the biggest U.S. criminal prosecution involving civilian deaths to emerge from the Iraq war.
Wuterich, 27, of Meriden, Conn., is accused of taking part in the massacre after a roadside bomb hit his convoy in Haditha, Iraq, in 2005. Wuterich contends he was acting under proper rules of engagement when he ordered his men to assault several houses, which they cleared with grenades and gunfire.
He could face up to 160 years in prison if convicted of voluntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, dereliction of duty and obstruction of justice.
The charges were filed late last month against Wuterich. More serious charges — unpremeditated murder, as well as charges of soliciting another to commit an offense and making a false official statement — were dismissed by the Marine Corps.
The killings occurred Nov. 19, 2005, in Haditha after a roadside bomb hit a Marine convoy, killing the driver of a Humvee and wounding two other Marines.
Wuterich and a squad member, Sgt. Sanick Dela Cruz, allegedly shot five men by a car at the scene.
At his preliminary hearing, Wuterich said that he regretted the loss of civilian life but that he believed he was coming under fire from the homes and was operating within the rules of engagement when he ordered his men into the buildings.
Four enlisted Marines were initially charged with murder in the case, and four officers were charged with failing to investigate the deaths. Charges against several of the men have been dropped, and none will face murder charges.