CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – Defense lawyers for a Marine whose squad killed 24 Iraqis in Haditha alleged Tuesday that the Marine Corps unfairly allowed the prosecution's team of military lawyers to remain on active duty, but denied the same request for the defense.
The Marine Corps refused to postpone the retirement in 2008 of former Marine Haytham Faraj and retired Marine Lt. Col. Colby Vokey as the case dragged on for five years. They continued to represent Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich as a civilian lawyers but say they were limited in their abilities.
"We just don't have the resources that we had when we were in uniform," Faraj told a military judge at Camp Pendleton.
Faraj accused the government of going to "great lengths" to ensure the prosecution's legal team stayed together on the government's biggest case to emerge from the Iraqi war.
They pointed to reserve Marine Lt. Col. Sean Sullivan, a member of the prosecution's legal team, who was allowed to remain on active duty after he neared retirement because military leaders argued that he was needed for the case.
"This was a big deal," Faraj said. "They were aware enough to ensure prosecutors remain on the case."
Prosecutors denied that, saying their team has lost two attorneys to retirement and deployment. They said the decision to keep Sullivan on active duty had nothing to do with his involvement in the case.
Military judge Lt. Col. David M. Jones gave the defense until Sept. 29 to file a motion alleging the unfair practice, and the prosecution must respond by Oct. 6. The trial is set for Nov. 2.
The defense has been arguing that the case should be dismissed because of what they call the "Hutchins motion," named after Marine Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III, whose murder conviction in another major Iraqi war crimes case was thrown out this spring by a military appeals court.
That court ruled he was given an unfair trial because his military defense attorney was retired from the Marine Corps and excused from the case before his 2007 court-martial.
The judge said he would rule next week on that motion. Wuterich's lawyers said their case should be dismissed because Vokey had to be excused from the case after the private firm where he now works caused an undisclosed ethical conflict.
Wuterich, 30, of Meriden, Conn., is the last defendant in the case that has dragged on for years because of legal wrangling. He said his life has been on hold and that he wants the case dismissed.
The former squad leader is accused of leading his men on a rampage that killed two dozen civilians in Haditha in November 2005 after a roadside bomb killed a Marine.
Eight Marines were initially charged with murder or failing to investigate the killings. Six have had charges dismissed, and one was acquitted.
Wuterich faces reduced charges of voluntary manslaughter and has pleaded not guilty. He said he regrets the loss of human life but believes he was following combat rules when he ordered the attack.
"I don't want it to go to trial, but I want the truth to come out," Wuterich said after Tuesday's hearing.
Since he was charged, Wuterich has gotten divorced and been relegated to handling maintenance problems at Camp Pendleton. He is studying computer maintenance and repair at a nearby college.
Last year, he briefly trained Marines preparing for deployment to Afghanistan on combat skills. He said the training included discussions on combat rules and how to clear houses — two of the issues the prosecution said Wuterich did wrongly in Haditha. The Marine Corps later sent him back to doing base maintenance.
Wuterich's civilian lawyer, Neal Puckett, said that he is confident Wuterich would be exonerated if the case goes to trial, but the details that would come out would be devastating to the Marine Corps, its image and the prosecution.
"It is going to be shocking what the public learns from this case," he said, without elaborating.