Trial of SSgt Wuterich: Dela Cruz Takes the Stand

by Nathaniel R. Helms | Wednesday, January 11, 2012 | Day Five

Camp Pendleton, Calif. Sgt. Sanick P. Dela Cruz, a battle-rattled combat Marine who made a deal with the government to avoid court martial for murder, testified Wednesday morning that he saw Staff Sergeant Frank D. Wuterich shoot five unarmed Iraqi men after a roadside bomb exploded in Haditha in November 2005.

It is either the fourth or fifth version of his observations since he failed a polygraph, and then elected to accept immunity from prosecution, counting the two versions he presented at trial today.

During a lengthy examination by prosecutor LtCol Sean Sullivan, Dela Cruz told the eight-member panel that the Iraq men didn’t appear threatening after inexplicably appearing in a white car next to the Marine’s four-vehicle convoy seconds before the last Humvee in the column disappeared in a huge explosion. The hidden roadside bomb killed driver LCpl. Miguel ‘T.J.’ Terrazas and wounded two Marines riding with him.

They were standing there looking around, some with their hands in the air and some behind their heads, Dela Cruz said while demonstrating the decedent’s movements. “One of the Iraqis in the middle dropped, sir. Then they were falling back behind the car. I looked over at Sgt. Wuterich, Sergeant Wuterich was kneeling in a firing position, sir. I looked back at the Iraqis and I didn’t see [any] more of them.”

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The Chicago native was granted immunity from prosecution for five counts of murder to testify against Wuterich and three of his squad mates in 2007. He was accused of shooting the same men he now claims were already killed by Wuterich when he ripped a burst of fire across their prostrate torsos and then urinated on the empty skull of one of the dead men.

“The emotion took over,” he explained.

Plagued with a terrible memory, the inability to articulate his thoughts, and a deer-in-the headlights demeanor, Dela Cruz didn’t seem to reinforce Sullivan’s case.

It was further damaged when Dela Cruz withered under the blazing cross-examination of defense counsel Haytham Faraj, who roasted him like the proverbial marshmallow, the same way he was skewered during a pre-trial inquiry in 2007. Read about Dela Cruz’s Article 32 testimony here.

Yesterday’s testimony revealed the squad of Marines from 3rd Plt. Kilo Co., 3/1 Marines had been briefed the night before to expect coordinated attacks from the burgeoning insurgency in the notoriously dangerous Haditha, Haqlaniyah and Barwana Triad where al Qaeda financed insurgents had virtually taken over much of the region.

In October 2005, the Marine Corps launched Operation Rivergate to break insurgents’ strangle hold on the region. Insurgents had killed 55 Marines from an Ohio-based Marine reserve battalion before the Thundering Third was sent to quell the uprising during the regimental sized operation.

The ambush of Route Chestnut was part of the insurgency’s attempt to batter the Marines into a more defensive posture. Yesterday, intelligence specialist SSgt Justin Laughner told the court his Human Exploitation Team was sent to Haditha to help 3/1 ferret out the insurgents that the Marines say had planted 22 IEDs on Haditha’s roads in the weeks preceding the ambush.

Dela Cruz also reintroduced his claim that Wuterich had told him to claim the Iraqis were running away and had been killed by the Iraqi soldiers that were being transported in the convoy.

“Sgt. Wuterich approached me and told me if anyone asked that they were running away and the Iraqi Army shot them – those five individuals near the white car,” Dela Cruz said. Wuterich fiercely denies the allegation, saying the conversation never happened.

The relative calm of the courtroom was once again broken Wednesday when Faraj and Sullivan argued over whether the word ‘polygraph’ could be uttered before the panel after Dela Cruz volunteered he had failed a polygraph examination administered by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service while being examined for the murders of the five men.

Polygraph examinations are notoriously inaccurate and inadmissible as evidence of criminal behavior in all U.S. Courts. “After he was confronted with the polygraph only then did he say he had lied,” Faraj told the judge.

“The government objects to mentioning the polygraph at all,” Sullivan retorted.

“You can get your point across that the witness is the biggest liar in the world without mentioning the polygraph,” Jones admonished Faraj.

As soon as the trial resumed Faraj was back on the attack.

“When you were urinating in the skull, didn’t Sgt Wuterich say, knock that off?” Faraj inquired.

“You made a deal to save yourself?” Faraj demanded to know late in his cross-examination.

“No sir,” Dela Cruz replied. “I didn’t want to testify, I was ordered to.”

Nathaniel R. Helms
Defend Our Marines
11 January 201

Note: Nat Helms is a Contributing Editor to Defend Our Marines. He is a Vietnam veteran, former police officer, war correspondent, and, most recently, author of My Men Are My Heroes: The Brad Kasal Story (Meredith Books, 2007).