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THE CONFLICT IN IRAQ: HOMAGE TO SHIITE IMAM;MARINE
GENERAL'S DECISION

Marine cleared in killing of Iraqis

The lance corporal acted within corps standards when he shot three people, a commander decides.

August 10, 2007|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

The Marine Corps announced Thursday that it had dropped charges against Lance Cpl. Justin L. Sharratt, who was accused of murdering three Iraqi brothers in November 2005.

Sharratt was one of eight Marines initially accused in the slayings of 24 civilians in the Iraqi town of Haditha after a roadside bomb killed a Marine.

Four enlisted men were charged with the killings and four officers with dereliction of duty for not ordering a war crimes investigation.

Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis, commander of Marine Force Central Command, said he dropped the charges out of a belief that Sharratt acted within Marine Corps standards when forced to make a quick decision while searching a house for insurgents.

In a separate decision, Mattis also dropped charges against Capt. Randy W. Stone, who was a lawyer with the battalion involved.

Sharratt's attorneys, Gary Myers and James Culp, said Mattis cited in a letter to Sharratt the extreme demands placed upon troops in insurgency warfare.

In suburban Pittsburgh, Sharratt's parents were planning a reunion when their son leaves the corps next week and returns home.

"We're feeling great, after a year and a half of worry and doubt," Darryl Sharratt, the Marine's father, said in a telephone interview.

Sharratt said his son, who turns 23 next week, hopes to attend college and become a history teacher.

Justin Sharratt, a veteran of heavy fighting in the city of Fallouja in 2004, was accused of murdering the Iraqis inside a small house after a roadside bomb killed one Marine and injured two. Relatives of the brothers told Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents that Sharratt had herded the three into a bedroom and executed them.

But defense lawyers said the relatives were lying, that Sharratt was searching a house for insurgents when he was confronted by a man pointing an AK-47 at him. The three brothers were all killed by shots to the head with a 9-millimeter handgun.

The hearing officer, Lt. Col. Paul Ware, said the Iraqi accusations were not believable and that forensic evidence and sworn statements by other Marines supported Sharratt. Ware is an attorney.

Sharratt did not testify, but in an unsworn statement, he said he killed the three men in self-defense and used his handgun when his machine gun jammed.

Ware, in recommending that Mattis drop the charges, said he feared that bringing Sharratt to court-martial would send the wrong message to Iraqis and Marines. Iraqis, he said, might begin making false accusations as a way to undercut public support for the U.S. military presence in Iraq. Marines also might hesitate at the critical moment when facing the enemy, Ware wrote to Mattis.

Two enlisted Marines remain accused in the Haditha deaths.

With the dismissal of charges against Stone, three officers remain accused of dereliction of duty for not launching a more complete investigation of possible war crimes.

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tony.perry@latimes.com

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