- (PHOTO:REUTERS/Mike Blake)
U.S. Marine Frank Wuterich has pled guilty in a case involving the deaths of 24 Iraqi civilians in 2005, after accepting a plea with lesser charges.
Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, who was one of eight Marines originally charged with murder or the failure to investigate the killings, ended court proceedings Monday by accepting a plea. One other marine was acquitted, six others were dismissed or had charges dropped.
Wuterich will now plea to one count of negligent dereliction of duty.
Negligent dereliction of duty is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of 90 days in custody and a reduction or forfeiture of pay. Wuterich made the final decision about his plea, and is expected to be sentenced on Tuesday.
"This was his decision and his decision alone," Neal Puckett, Wuterich's lead defense attorney, told The North County Times. "Staff Sergeant Wuterich believed this was the right and honorable thing to do."
The sentence will end a trial that lasted nearly seven years, and marks the largest war crimes prosecution that resulted after the war.
Proceedings started when Sgt. Wuterich was charged with leading his troops on a rampage that opened fire on many unarmed civilians, including women and children. Reports suggested that Wuterich was set off by a bomb that exploded and killed his friend.
Others later testified that the civilians appeared unarmed and did not fire back, although insurgents were believed to be hiding in the area. The official criminal investigation began in March of 2006.
"No one denies that the events … were tragic, most of all Frank Wuterich," Puckett said in exclusive comments to The North County Times. "But the fact of the matter is that he has now been totally exonerated of the homicide charges brought against him by the government and the media."
The attorney continued, suggesting that Wuterich was ready to rebuild his reputation that had been tarnished during court proceedings.
"For the last six years, he has had his name dragged through the mud. Today, we hope, is the beginning of his redemption."