CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — A Marine sergeant accused in the killing of 24 unarmed Iraqis in 2005 pleaded guilty Monday in a deal that will carry no more than three months confinement.
Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, 31, of Meriden, Conn., who was originally accused of unpremeditated murder, pleaded guilty to negligent dereliction of duty for leading his troops to disregard rules of combat when they raided homes in the town of Haditha after a roadside bomb exploded near their convoy, killing one Marine and wounding two others.
The incident is considered among the Iraq war's defining moments, further tainting America's reputation when it was at a low point after the release of photos of prisoner abuse by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison.
"The case doesn't end with a bang, it ends with a whimper and a pretty weak whimper at that," said Gary Solis, a former Marine Corps prosecutor and judge. "When you have 24 dead bodies and you get dereliction of duty, that's pretty good defense work."
Wuterich, his family and his attorneys declined to comment.
Prosecutors also declined to comment on the plea deal. Lt. Col. Joseph Kloppel, a Marine Corps spokesman, said the deal was not a reflection or in any way connected to how the prosecution felt their case was going in the trial.
Wuterich faces a maximum of three months in confinement, two-thirds forfeiture of pay and a rank demotion to private when he's sentenced.
Seven other Marines were acquitted or had charges dismissed in the case.