Last of the 8 Haditha Marines goes free, too!

Marine  Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich joins 7 of his fellow Marines who have already been exonerated of killing 24 unarmed Iraqis. Wuterich avoided serving any time for his role in the incident, winning leniency through a plea deal that carried no punishment beyond a reduction in rank.

Pat Dollard  Wuterich pleaded guilty Monday to negligent dereliction of duty as part of the agreement with prosecutors. The minor charge carries a maximum sentence of 90 days. Prosecutors asked Jones to give Wuterich the maximum sentence of three months confinement, a reduction in rank and forfeiture of two-thirds of his pay. The judge  decided not to dock his pay because the divorced father has sole custody of three young daughters.

Wuterich has acknowledged ordering his squad to “shoot first, ask questions later” after a roadside bomb took the life of a fellow Marine, but he said he did not shoot any of the 10 women and children killed in nearby homes that he stormed with his men.“The truth is: I never fired my weapon at any women or children that day,” Wuterich told Jones.

Defense attorney Neal Puckett said Wuterich has lived under the cloud of being labeled a killer who carried out a massacre in Iraq. Lawyers also said he has been exonerated of directly causing the deaths of civilians in the two homes and insisted his only intent was to protect his Marines, calling it “honorable and noble.” “The appropriate punishment in this case, your honor, is no punishment,” Puckett said.

Wuterich, 31, told the court that his guilty plea should not suggest that he believes his men behaved badly or that they acted in any way that was dishonorable to their country. He said he ordered his men to “shoot first, ask questions later” so they would not hesitate in attacking the enemy, but he never intended to harm any civilians.

In Iraq, residents of the Euphrates river town of Haditha were angered by the fact that not one of the eight Marines initially charged will be convicted of manslaughter. The seven other Marines initially charged were exonerated or had their cases dropped.

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