Marine gets three months in jail for massacring two dozen civilians

United States Marine Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich arrives for his arraignment at Camp Pendleton, California January 9, 2008 (Reuters / Mike Blake)
More than six years after Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich led a squad of Marines into two Haditha, Iraq homes and massacred two dozen civilians, the American serviceman in charge has reached a plea deal.

For nine counts of manslaughter, Wuterich will get three months of confinement.

Wuterich is the last of eight men tied to the November 2005 killing that left 24 Iraqis dead, including women, children and the elderly. It was announced on Monday this week that he had reached a plea with prosecutors during his military tribunal and is now expected to be sentenced as early as Tuesday. According to the Associated Press, Wuterich will face a maximum of three months of confinement, the forfeiture of two-thirds of his pay and a rank demotion.

Of the other seven Marines charged with the now-notorious massacre, one was acquitted and six had their charges dismissed. Wuterich’s attorneys have been confident throughout the ordeal that he would see a similar outcome. "He's going to be glad to have it over because he knows that he'll be exonerated," lawyer Neal Puckett told National Public Radio earlier this month.

On November 19, 2005, Wuterich led a squad of men into two separate homes in the town of Haditha and opened fire on everyone in sight. Prosecutors say that a roadside bomb exploded moments before the Marines stormed the home, and were brought into hysterics by seeing a fellow soldier die in the attack. In response, they went on a rampage and for 45 minutes raided the two homes and were never faced with gunfire. Wuterich later said he instructed his team to “shoot first and ask questions later.”

“My Marines responded to the threats they faced in the manner that we all had been trained,” he explained to CBS’ 60 Minutes in 2007. After the roadside bomb was detonated, Wuterich said that, "My responsibility as a squad leader is to make sure that none of the rest of my guys died. And at that point, we were still on the assault."

Lt. Col. Joseph Kloppel, spokesman of the Camp Pendleton marine Corps base near San Diego, California, told the media on Monday that "By pleading guilty to this charge, Staff Sergeant Wuterich has accepted responsibility for his actions.”