After agreeing to a plea bargain on Monday, Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich expected a sentence of 90 days in jail for slaughtering civilians during a 2005 massacre in Iraq. On Tuesday that term was nixed, and now the confessed killer will only be demoted.
A spokesman for the US 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.” Those actions — a starring role in a brutal massacre that left 24 people dead in Haditha, Iraq back in 2005 — led to eight Marines being faced with a multitude of charges over the last six-plus years. Wuterich was the last of the eight men to be brought to trial, but on Monday he accepted a plea bargain in lieu of continuing with his trial that involved, among other charges, nine counts of manslaughter against him.
The terms of the plea bargain, as reported Monday, were believed to include three months of containment in a military prison, the forfeiture of two-thirds of his pay and a rank demotion. On Tuesday, however, the harshest penalty for the staff sergeant was revoked and now Wuterich will see no jail time for his role in the murders.
On November 19, 2005, Wuterich led a squad of US Marines into two separate homes in Haditha, Iraq outside of Baghdad. The men opened fire on civilians, killing two dozen men, women and children, including an elderly man confined to a wheelchair. He would later admit to instructing his peers to “shoot first and ask questions later” and insisted that, despite no weapons ever being recovered from the Iraqi homes, that the American fighters were under assault.
On Tuesday, Wuterich admitted that his name will always be associated with that of “a cold-blooded baby-killer” and “an out of control monster,” but appeared emotionless when his scanty sentence was finally handed down, reports Reuters. He accepted guilt for leading the fighters through the massacre, but said that “the intent wasn’t that they should shoot civilians. It was that they would not hesitate in the face of the enemy.”
“The truth is, I don’t believe anyone in my squad … behaved in any way that was dishonorable or contrary to the highest ideals that we all live by as Marines,” added Wuterich.
Earlier this year, Wuterich’s attorney told National Public Radio that their client was excited to have the trial finally come to a close, "because he knows that he'll be exonerated.” Of the other seven men linked to the episode, six was acquitted and one had his charges dismissed.