CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- A military judge in California denied a motion Friday to dismiss charges against a Marine sergeant whose squad killed 24 Iraqi men, women and children after a bomb killed a Marine.
Lt. Col. David Jones ruled at Camp Pendleton on a defense motion claiming there was unlawful command influence while a general considered a court-martial for Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich.
The judge ruled there was no record of any "meaningful comment" between the general and an aide who had investigated the case as a military lawyer.
Wuterich is the only remaining defendant in the biggest criminal case against U.S. troops to arise from the Iraq war.
He is facing trial on reduced charges of voluntary manslaughter and other crimes in the November 2005 attack in the town of Haditha.
Wuterich, seated in uniform, showed no emotion Friday when the judge began by saying, "Motion is denied."
"The record is absent any meaningful comment" between the general and the aide, the judge said.
The 30-year-old Wuterich, of Meriden, Conn., is one of eight Marines originally charged with murder or failure to investigate the killings. Six have had charges dropped or dismissed, and one was acquitted.
The end of the case would likely have met outcry in Iraq, where many see a lack of accountability for the actions of U.S. troops through the seven years of war.
Iman Walid Abdul-Hamid, 14, from Haditha was wounded and lost her parents and a brother in the attack. U.S. troops took Iman, who was 9 at the time, and her 6-year-old brother to Baghdad for treatment.
"We were sleeping. My father was reciting Quran in another room, when the soldiers broke the door and shot him dead," she said. "These killers should be killed. Their case should not be closed before they are justly tried. It is not right to throw away this case."
Wuterich is currently assigned to administrative work at 1st Marine Division headquarters at Camp Pendleton.
The deaths occurred after a Marine was killed by a roadside bomb in the town of Haditha.
Wuterich and a squad member were accused of shooting five men by a car at the scene. Investigators say Wuterich then ordered his men to clear several houses with grenades and gunfire.
A full investigation didn't begin until a Time magazine reporter inquired about the deaths in January 2006, two months later.
At his preliminary hearing, Wuterich said he regretted the loss of civilian lives but believed he was operating within military combat rules when he ordered his men to attack.
The judge previously said Wuterich's attorneys presented credible evidence regarding the role of military lawyer, Col. John Ewers, who investigated the Haditha killings and later became a top aide to the generals who brought charges against Wuterich and ordered him to stand trial.
Gen. James Mattis, who brought charges, acknowledged during testimony that Ewers was in the room when allegations of wartime abuse were discussed but denies ever getting advice from him on the Haditha case.
The defense argued that Ewers' mere presence stifled junior attorneys who were assigned to advise the general. Court papers describe how Ewers, who was seriously wounded in Iraq in 2003, had a stellar reputation and a long history with Gen. Mattis.