4 Marines Charged With Murder of Iraq Civilians


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

December 22, 2006

Marines Charge 4 With Murder of Iraq Civilians
Correction Appended

Four marines were charged yesterday with murder in the killings of two dozen 
Iraqi civilians, including at least 10 women and children, in the village of 
Haditha last year, military officials said at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

Military prosecutors also charged four officers, including a lieutenant colonel 
in charge of the First Marine Regiment¹s Third Battalion, with dereliction of 
duty and failure to ensure that accurate information about the killings was 
delivered up the Marine Corps¹ chain of command. A military investigation has 
found evidence that Marine officers may have obscured certain facts in the case.

The Marines could punish other ranking officers administratively in weeks to 
come. But the criminal charges filed yesterday against Lt. Col. Jeffrey R. 
Chessani, 42, and three other officers reflect an unusually aggressive judicial 
reaction by military prosecutors to a massacre that has damaged the military¹s 
credibility with Iraqi officials and civilians, military justice experts said.

³This is very aggressive charging ‹ wow,² said Gary Solis, who teaches the law 
of war at Georgetown University Law Center and at West Point. ³I think this 
illustrates the deep seriousness the Marine Corps takes with these events.²

He added, ³I definitely think the Marine Corps is sending a message to 
commanders, to those in authority of combat troops, that they better pay close 
attention to the activities of their subordinates to ensure that there was no 

Though this was not the first instance of American forces being charged with 
killing Iraqi civilians, the charges announced yesterday, including 13 counts of
murder against one sergeant alone, Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, 26, suggest that 
military prosecutors view the Haditha killings as being among the most serious 
breaches of military rules in the nearly four-year war. The charges are a result
of two military investigations into the actions of members of Company K, Third 
Battalion, First Marine Regiment after a roadside bomb killed one of their 
comrades shortly after 7 a.m. on Nov. 19, 2005, in Haditha, a village in a 
region northwest of Baghdad that is rife with Sunni Arab insurgents.

A total of 24 Iraqis, nearly all of them unarmed, were killed by several marines
in a series of attacks on a car and three nearby homes over the next several 
hours, military officials said.

The four enlisted men charged with unpremeditated murder, all members of a squad
of Company K, Third Battalion, First Marine Regiment, are: Sergeant Wuterich of 
Meriden, Conn.; Sgt. Sanick De La Cruz, 24, of Chicago; Lance Cpl. Justin L. 
Sharratt, 22, of Carbondale, Pa.; and Lance Cpl. Stephen B. Tatum, 25, of 
Edmond, Okla.

Sergeant Wuterich and Sergeant De La Cruz confronted five military-age men ‹ a 
taxi driver and four college students ‹ after marines frantically ordered the 
vehicle to stop, about 100 yards from the stalled Marine convoy of four Humvees.
The two marines were each charged with murder in connection with the deaths of 
all five men after ordering them out of the taxi, Marine officials said.

Several marines then attacked a home nearby, killing several family members 
inside, military officials and defense lawyers said. Sergeant Wuterich is 
charged with killing six people in the house. Lance Corporal Tatum is charged 
with negligent homicide in the deaths of four people, including an elderly man 
in a wheelchair in that house.

Thinking they were under fire and believing they were pursuing attackers from 
the first home, squad members proceeded to a second home, defense lawyers said. 
Sergeant Wuterich is charged with killing six people in that house: two adults 
and four children, including three who were 4, 6 and 11 years old.

Lance Corporal Tatum is charged with killing two children in the second house: a
15-year-old boy and a girl who was about 6 years old.

At least two hours later, squad members attacked people in a third home nearby, 
where one AK-47 was found later, military officials and defense lawyers have 
said. Sergeant Wuterich is charged with killing the first person in that house. 
Lance Corporal Sharratt is charged with killing three brothers who rushed to the
home to inquire what was happening, military officials have said. They were shot
with an M9 service pistol.

In all, Sergeant Wuterich was charged with 13 counts of murder in connection 
with the deaths of 18 people, who were killed with an M4 service rifle; falsely 
telling an investigator that the men from the taxi had fired at the convoy; and 
urging Sergeant De La Cruz to report that those men had been killed by Iraqi 
Army soldiers at the scene.

Lance Corporal Sharratt was charged with three counts of murder, and Lance 
Corporal Tatum was charged with murder in the death of two Iraqis, negligent 
homicide in the deaths of four others, and assault.

The lawyers for all four enlisted men declared their clients¹ innocence, arguing
in separate statements after the charges that the killings were an unfortunate 
result of marines properly responding to an insurgent attack in a dangerous 
area. Sergeant Wuterich and his men ³did everything they were supposed to do 
that day to protect themselves,² said his lawyer, Neal A. Puckett.

In addition to Colonel Chessani, prosecutors charged two captains and a first 
lieutenant with either covering up or failing to discover and pass along certain
facts about the killings. ³The reporting of the incident up the chain of command
was inaccurate and untimely,² Col. Stewart Navarre said at a news conference at 
Camp Pendleton.

Capt. Lucas M. McConnell, 31, the Company K commander, was charged with 
dereliction of duty for willfully failing to ensure a thorough investigation; 
Capt. Randy W. Stone, 34, a military lawyer for the Third Battalion, was charged
with dereliction of duty for failing to investigate suspected violations.

A Marine intelligence officer who was part of a team that photographed the 
aftermath of the killings, Andrew A. Grayson, 25, was charged with dereliction 
of duty, failure to ensure a thorough investigation, making a false official 
statement and obstruction of justice.

The murder charges against the four enlisted marines are punishable by a maximum
of life in prison and dishonorable discharge, the Marines said. The charges 
filed against the four officers carry significantly less potential prison time ‹
two years for Colonel Chessani and Captain Stone; six months for Captain 
McConnell; and more than 10 years for Lieutenant Grayson ‹ as well as the 
prospect of dismissal and forfeiture of pay.

Kevin B. McDermott, a civilian lawyer for Captain McConnell, said his client had
reported what he knew of the Haditha episode to superiors and was not guilty of 
any crime. Colonel Chessani, Captain Stone and Lieutenant Grayson could not be 
reached for comment yesterday afternoon.

None of the eight marines charged entered a plea yesterday. Formal reviews, 
known as Article 32 hearings, to determine whether the charges warrant 
court-martial, could begin next month, said Mr. Solis, the teacher of the law of

Prosecutors may use the hearings to lay out some of the evidence collected by 
two military investigations ‹ one into the killings themselves, and a second 
into the Marines¹ investigation of them ‹ and other physical evidence. That 
evidence is likely to include detailed photographs of the dead taken by 
Lieutenant Grayson¹s intelligence unit after the killings; a videotape made by 
an Iraqi man shortly after the killings that shows blood-spattered walls inside 
several homes and statements from children who survived the assault; and a 
surveillance video from a military drone that flew over the scene after the 

Archie Tse contributed reporting.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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