MERIDEN, CT - Rosemarie Wuterich was ecstatic Thursday after learning of a report that appears to exonerate one of the Marines accused in the November 2005 deaths of 24 men, women and children in Haditha, Iraq. It wasn't about her son, Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, who is facing 18 murder charges, but the report on Lance Cpl. Justin L. Sharratt includes her son and could help his case.
"It's absolutely wonderful," Rosemarie Wuterich said from the west-side home where she and her husband, David, raised Frank and his sister, who were both adopted.
"We're so happy for (Sharratt)," she continued. "I just hope it continues all the way up or down the line."
The family has been on a roller coaster of emotions since Frank Wuterich's name surfaced in the spring of last year in connection with the deaths, which occurred in the Iraqi town in November 2005 after a roadside bomb hit the Marine convoy, killing one soldier.
Wuterich was in charge of the patrol and led his troops on a house-to-house raid. The Marines also killed four men who approached the scene by car.
Wuterich has been living in Southern California with his wife and three children since he returned from Iraq in April of 2006.
He had planned to leave the Marines to study music, but the incident, and murder charges, which were leveled last December, have delayed his plans. His parents have stood by him and raised money for his legal defense, which his mother said could cost as much as $250,000, but much of the news has been discouraging - until now.
Marine Corps investigator Lt. Col. Paul J. Ware's report, which was issued after the prosecution and defense presented their evidence about Sharratt at a pretrial hearing, calls Iraqi witness accounts not credible.
"The statements of the Iraqis are unclear, contradictory in part and simply state self-interested conclusions as to what occurred within house four," Ware wrote. "Ultimately, there is only one statement by an eye witness to the events, Lance Cpl. Sharratt, and his version of the events is strongly corroborated by independent forensic analysis of the death scene."
Ware recommends that all charges be dismissed against Sharratt, something that could help Wuterich.
Wuterich was in house four with Sharratt, one of three where Marines killed the people inside during a process known as clearing.
Ware will issue reports on Wuterich and Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum, who is also accused of murder, once the men have had their pretrial hearings.
Mark S. Zaid, one of Wuterich's attorneys, said in a phone interview Thursday that he was increasingly optimistic about Wuterich's case, even though the charges against his client are the most severe of those against the three enlisted men.
Wuterich and Tatum are charged with the deaths of men, women and children in the other two houses and the car that approached the scene.
"Ware was going out of his way in the report to say that the government's own forensic evidence doesn't support what the Iraqi witnesses are saying," Zaid said. "We are not concerned about the government's forensic evidence."
Tatum's pretrial hearing is scheduled to start Monday. Wuterich's is set for Aug. 22.
Lt. Gen. James Mattis will read the reports and determine if the independent cases should go to a court-martial, or military trial.
Civilian and military attorneys told The New York Times this week that they expect Mattis to go along with Ware's recommendation to dismiss the charges against Sharratt.
A report compiled on the Haditha deaths last year by Navy investigators implicated the three enlisted men and four officers for failing to investigate the incident.
So far, though,
Marine investigators have recommended exonerating Sharratt
and reducing the charges against Capt. Randy Stone to a
civil punishment, Zaid said. It was recommended Wednesday
that Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, the highest-ranking Marine
charged in the incident, face a court-martial for
dereliction of duty because he failed to investigate the
incident after Marines initially reported that 15 Iraqis
died in a roadside bomb blast.
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