Prosecution’s star witness
in Haditha case crumbles
on the stand
September 1, 2007
Camp Pendleton -- A sergeant granted
immunity from prosecution for allegedly murdering five Iraqi men in
Haditha crumbled under hard questioning by a Marine Corps lawyer in
the second day of Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich's Article 32 hearing.
Wuterich, 27, from Meriden, Connecticut is accused of murdering 17
Iraqi civilians following the ambush of his squad on November 19,
2005. During the daylong fight, 24 Iraqis were killed by Marines,
dueling with several groups of insurgents hiding among the civilians
cowering in their homes. When the fighting ended eight insurgents had
been killed and at least two others were captured – one of them
holding an infant he had grabbed from a nearby home. The Marine Corps
has characterized the fight as a “city-wide, complex ambush” that left
one Marine dead and 11 others wounded.
Sanick P. Dela Cruz alternately seemed confused, mystified, and
dumbfounded during his rambling testimony.
Government prosecutors hope Dela Cruz can convince Investigating
Officer Lt. Col Paul J. Ware to recommend Wuterich stand general
courts-martial for the alleged murders. If Wuterich is found guilty of
the charges he faces a possible dishonorable discharge from the Marine
Corps and life imprisonment for his role in the killings.
Sgt. Dela Cruz's testimony
the proceedings Friday, while Dela Cruz stumbled through his
testimony, Wuterich seemed calm and collected. Sitting behind him was
his wife, mother and father, who have suffered both deep emotional and
severe financial hardship finding the means to afford civilian defense
attorneys to defend him.
first two hours of testimony on Friday was driven by government
prosecutor Lt. Col. Sean Sullivan, a Chicago lawyer and Marine Corps
reservist prosecuting the case. Sullivan led Dela Cruz through the
opening minutes of the day-long fight that began when an Improvised
Explosive Device detonated next to a Humvee in a convoy of four
vehicles, killing one Marine and wounding two others.
According to Dela Cruz, Wuterich gunned down five Iraqi men standing
by a white sedan stopped adjacent to the ambush site seconds after the
bomb exploded. Dela Cruz testified that Wuterich began shooting the
men without provocation after they emerged from his vehicle.
Cruz’s most damaging testimony came when he claimed that a week before
the deadly ambush Wuterich told him that his squad should kill
everyone in the area if they were ever attacked by a roadside bomb.
four hours of cross examination by defense attorney Lt. Col. Colby C.
Vokey, Dela Cruz was unable to clearly explain his previous testimony.
At one point he simply stopped talking and stared into the distance,
seemingly at a loss for words. At other times he simply rambled on
until he was ordered to quit talking.
was particularly critical of Dela Cruz’s characterization of the
attack on the five Iraqis he claims were standing by a white car that
appeared at the ambush site almost simultaneously with the IED
explosion. Vokey pointed out that Dela Cruz had offered government
prosecutors at least three different versions of what happened during
Cruz explained that he was lying during those statements to protect
himself and his squad from possible retribution by investigators. He
said he eventually decided to tell the truth after his battalion had
redeployed back to its home base at Camp Pendleton without himself and
four other Marines initially charged with murder.
was a false statement that I made to NCIS,” Dela Cruz said in response
to Vokey’s question about why he had lied in two previous statements
to investigators. “The whole battalion was gone and myself, Sharratt,
Tatum, Salinas and Mendoza were the only ones left. I decided to tell
minutes later Dela Cruz tried again to explain away the
inconsistencies he made in his previous sworn statements to Army and
NCIS investigators about his role in the alleged murders of the five
Iraqi men standing by the white car.
the April 2nd statement - first of all I would like say that the
statement I made on 18 March (2006) - was correct except for the white
lied because you were worried that you committed murder. You were
worried that you committed murder. Just a few minutes ago you said you
didn’t shoot them, that they were already dead. So why would you be
worried about committing murder?” Vokey asked.
shot at them, I shot at them, sir,” Dela Cruz responded.
you are worried that you committed murder because you were the first
one to shoot.”
sir,” Dela Cruz answered.
you say the Staff Sergeant Wuterich was the one firing and you didn’t
perceive a threat from the white car, then why did you ever say that
you fired - but you didn’t shoot them?" Vokey retorted. “So why were
you worried about being charged with murder? If they were already dead
you couldn’t murder them, could you?”
Cruz didn’t answer.
Vokey’s challenge to Dela Cruz’s veracity over the “white car
incident” was only the beginning of his confrontation with the
prosecution’s star witness. About an hour later, Vokey took Dela Cruz
to task again.
your first two statements]…you said you were firing at the white car
and that they were running and you yelled ‘kuff, kuff …
stop, stop.’ How many seconds after the IED went off did they stop
their vehicle? Vokey demanded.
a second, sir", Dela Cruz responded.
they got out of their vehicle after an IED explosion you did not
perceive them as a threat? On the...first NCIS statement you said it
was you who fired first. You changed your answer to Sgt. Wuterich was
the one who fired….”
is the truth, sir,” Dela Cruz answered.
what were they doing?” Vokey demanded.
were being nosy. They had their hands up looking around, they were
being nosy, being curious.… I did not see them as a threat, they were
just standing there,” Dela Cruz explained.
he started firing first you preceded behind the vehicle and started
shooting them on the ground?” Vokey demanded.
I saw Sgt. Wuterich shooting at them I thought they might be a
thought they might be dead – correct,” Vokey inquired.
did you shoot into the bodies? Vokey asked.
to make sure they are dead,” Dela Cruz responded.
they are dead they are not a threat, are they?” Vokey continued.
just wanted to make sure they were dead,” Dela Cruz explained.
were pissing on his skull, weren’t you? His head was split open and
you were urinating on his skull. Did someone see you do this? In your
statement you said you might have seen [that] somebody had seen you.
You were just pissing on a dead man’s skull.”
sir,” Dela Cruz responded.
know it was wrong, my emotions took over,” Dela Cruz explained. “I
know it was the wrong thing to do and I wasn’t thinking right. T.J.
[Miguel “T.J. Terrazas – killed in the IED explosion] was gone and two
other Marines were hurt and my emotions took over.”
you fail a polygraph?” Vokey demanded.
Charges coming in the Fallujah investigation
Meanwhile, the unrelated case against another group of Marines for an
incident during the battle of Fallujah in November, 2004 continues to
grind forward. Defend Our Marines has learned that in addition
to former sergeant Jose Luis Nazario and Sergeant Jermaine Nelson,
already charged in connection with the alleged murders, as many as
five other Marines from the embattled 3rd Platoon, Kilo Company, 3rd
Battalion, 1st Marines, may be implicated in that alleged incident.
Company, 3/1 was lauded as one of the finest combat units in the
United States Marines Corps when it returned from Iraq after its
second deployment in March, 2005. Its ranks included two Navy Cross
recipients and a platoon’s worth of Silver and Bronze Star recipients
decorated for their heroic campaign in 2004. Two years later it would
be recognized again – as the most disgraced unit in the entire Marine
of the men who fought at Fallujah, including former Corporal Ryan
Weemer, who initially made the allegations, could be recalled to
active duty so the government can pursue the investigation, sources
said. Currently Weemer is a college student in Kentucky. The Naval
Criminal Investigative Service has been pursuing the investigation
since Weemer revealed the alleged murders during a polygraph
examination for a uniformed Secret Service job last year. Charges
against at least one more Marine are expected to be announced Tuesday.
Nathaniel R. Helms
Defend Our Marines 1