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Immunity given to 7 in Haditha slayings

April 21 2007 at 6:32 PM
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Immunity given to 7 in Haditha slayings

Prosecutors trying to get more witnesses to testify
By Rick Rogers
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER

April 21, 2007

CAMP PENDLETON – Prosecutors have granted immunity to at least seven Camp Pendleton Marines linked to the killings of 24 civilians in Haditha, Iraq, according to newly leaked documents and sources close to the case.

The strategy resembles one that prosecutors have used effectively in another high-profile murder case involving servicemen from the base: bolstering their odds of winning by enticing more witnesses to testify.

Last summer, seven Marines and a sailor were charged with the April 26 abduction and execution-style death of an Iraqi grandfather in Hamdaniya, Iraq. The defendants initially banded together and pledged to fight the allegations.

But their unity melted once the Marine Corps started making plea deals, with prosecutors offering lighter prison sentences to some servicemen in exchange for their testimony against the remaining defendants. Five of the accused have taken plea agreements.

On Tuesday, the Marine Corps announced that it had dropped all charges, including five counts of murder, against Sgt. Sanick P. Dela Cruz and given him immunity in exchange for his testimony.

Cruz and three other enlisted Marines are accused of going on a deadly rampage Nov. 19, 2005, in Haditha after a roadside bomb claimed one of their own. The defendants have acknowledged killing the 24 civilians but said they were following the military's rules for combat engagement.

In addition, four officers are charged with failing to fully investigate the incident.

Yesterday, several lawyers and documents acquired by The Washington Post confirmed that prosecutors have extended immunity to at least six other Marines in the Haditha case. Those men, including the only officer present during the killings, apparently had not been charged with any crime.

Immunity may sound like a good thing, but not everybody wants it.

“Some of these guys are being given immunity so Marine prosecutors can then order them to testify,” said a military source with knowledge of the case. The source requested anonymity because Marine commanders haven't released the latest immunity documents or allowed people involved in the Haditha proceedings to speak publicly about them.

“Their Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate themselves only applies when facing charges,” the source said. “(Now) . . . they have to testify or face charges.”

Failure to testify could send them to prison for two years.

“Marines are a pretty tightknit group of people. They don't like testifying against each other,” said John Hutson, president and dean of the Franklin Pierce Law Center in Concord, N.H., and former judge advocate general of the Navy.

However, not all the Haditha immunity deals are guaranteed to boost the prosecution's chances. The testimony of Lt. William T. Kallop, the sole officer at the killing scene, could support defendants' contention that they were following lawful orders.

Kallop reached the Haditha site minutes after the roadside bomb went off, according to military reports. In testimony given later to investigators, he said the squad leader, Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, and another Marine heard gunfire coming from a nearby house.

Kallop told the investigators that he ordered Wuterich and the other men in his platoon to “take the house.”

“I'm convinced that we did nothing wrong,” Kallop is quoted as saying in documents The Washington Post obtained from anonymous sources.

The Marines also killed people in two other homes and a nearby vehicle.

“During the four years as a military trial lawyer, I don't recall a defense witness ever being given immunity,” said Tom Umberg, a former military defense counsel, prosecutor and judge.

Umberg theorized that Kallop's immunity deal might help the prosecution avoid certain problems if the defendants file appeals. He also said prosecutors might use some portions of Kallop's testimony to their advantage.




Find this article at:
http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/northcounty/20070421-9999-1m21haditha.html



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