A Marine lawyer investigating evidence against an infantryman accused of murdering three Iraqis in Haditha in 2005 has recommended dismissing all charges, citing a lack of evidence to show any wrongdoing.
In his 18-page report, the investigator said that the preliminary case presented by military prosecutors against the infantryman, Lance Cpl. Justin L. Sharratt, was “unsupported and incredible,” and that Lance Corporal Sharratt had killed the three men in a darkened bedroom of a home in response to a perceived threat “in accord with the rules of engagement and use of force.”
The report by the Marine investigator, Lt. Col. Paul J. Ware, has been sent to the commanding general of the First Marine Expeditionary Force, James T. Mattis, who will make the final decision whether to allow the case to proceed from its initial stages to a full court-martial. It is unlikely, military and civilian lawyers said, that General Mattis will seek grounds to diverge from Colonel Ware’s recommendation.
Lance Corporal Sharratt is one of three enlisted members of Company K, Third Battalion, First Marines, who were charged with murder in connection with actions taken in the hours after an insurgent bomb killed one marine as a convoy drove through Haditha on Nov. 19, 2005.
Two other marines, Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich and Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum, also face murder charges in connection with the deaths of 21 other Iraqis who the military’s prosecutors said were civilians. Hearings to examine the charges against those marines are to begin later this summer.
Four officers, including the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Jeffrey R. Chessani, were charged with dereliction of duty for failing to investigate adequately the Haditha killings, which occurred during a violent day of fighting against Sunni Arab insurgents. The investigator looking into the case of Capt. Randy W. Stone, a battalion lawyer and another of the four officers, recommended dismissing the charges in favor of a lesser, administrative punishment.
The investigator in Colonel Chessani’s case has recommended that the charges against him proceed to court-martial, said the Thomas More Law Center, which is representing Colonel Chessani for free.
Hearings for the other three officers are to begin in the coming months.
In his report, dated July 6, Colonel Ware said the case against Lance Corporal Sharratt relied on flimsy evidence: contradictory accounts from Haditha residents, inconclusive forensic analyses and sworn written statements by low-ranking enlisted men that were typed up, he said, by Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents who he contended routinely added phrases that bolstered prosecution arguments.