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Possible Plea Deal Pending In Haditha Trial

Aired 1/20/12 on KPBS News.

Court proceedings were scheduled to reconvene Friday in the trial of a major Iraq war crimes case, after a military judge excused jurors for nearly two days and asked lawyers to explore their options.

Witnesses have testified for six days so far in the court martial of Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich. The trial was expected to last several weeks, but yesterday the judge adjourned the proceeding until this afternoon and there was talk of a plea deal in the works

Frank Wuterich is the last of his squad to be on trial for the Haditha case.
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Above: Frank Wuterich is the last of his squad to be on trial for the Haditha case.

Wuterich is facing nine counts of manslaughter for his role in the killing of two dozen unarmed Iraqi civilians, including women and children, in 2005.

He has pleaded not guilty, arguing his actions were justified after his squad was hit by a roadside bomb, killing one Marine.

Wuterich is the last man to face a conviction in the incident, which is widely seen as a significant test of whether the U.S. followed the rules of engagement correctly in Iraq.

Wuterich’s original murder charges have already been reduced to voluntary manslaughter. If a plea deal is reached, he could plead guilty to a lesser charge.

The judge gave the jury – eight combat marines - instructions to return to the court room on Camp Pendleton at 8:30 am tomorrow morning.

Wuterich has said he regretted the loss of civilian lives but believed he was operating within military combat rules.

Prosecutors have argued Wuterich lost control of himself after seeing the body of his friend blown apart by the bomb.

The incident still fuels anger in Iraq today and was a main reason behind the country's demands that U.S. troops not be given immunity from its legal system. Those demands were the deal breaker in keeping forces there after the war ended in December.

The Associated Press contributed to the information in this report.

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