US Marine Escapes Jail Time in 2005 Slayings of Iraqi Civilians

Photos.com/Thinkstock(CAMP PENDLETON, Calif.) -- There is outrage in Iraq over a deal that allowed a Marine to plea down to a lesser charge in the 2005 killings of 24 people in the town of Haditha.

At the time, eight Marines were charged in the deaths of the unarmed residents.  But charges were dropped since then against seven of the defendants, while Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich's manslaughter trial came to a halt when he pleaded guilty to negligent dereliction of duty.

Initially implicated in 19 of 24 deaths, Wuterich told a military court at Camp Pendleton, Calif., on Tuesday that he did not shoot any women or children.

He said, "I told my team to shoot first and ask questions later, the intent wasn't that they would shoot civilians, it was that they would not hesitate in the face of the enemy."

Wuterich added that his guilty plea should not be construed as admitting that he or any of his squad did anything to dishonor the Marine Corps or the U.S.

Looking at the possibility of three months in prison, the court did not sentence Wuterich to any jail time.  He could, however, be demoted to private, the lowest rank in the service.

Before Tuesday’s hearing, Saleem al-Jubouri, the head of the Iraqi parliament's human rights committee, said the terms of the plea deal were "a violation of Iraqis' dignity."

Meanwhile, residents of Haditha were stunned by the outcome of the trial.  The mayor of the town complained that the trial made a mockery of the U.S. justice system.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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