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Marine may be cleared

A hearing officer calls evidence weak against suspect in Haditha case.

July 11, 2007|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

CAMP PENDLETON — A hearing officer recommended Tuesday that murder charges be dropped against Marine Lance Cpl. Justin L. Sharratt in the fatal shooting of Iraqi civilians in the western town of Haditha in late November 2005.

Lt. Col. Paul Ware said conflicting statements by Iraqis, inconclusive forensic evidence and questionable legal theories used by the prosecution were inadequate to send Sharratt to a court-martial on charges of killing three Iraqi brothers.

Ware's recommendation goes to Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis, commanding general of the Marine Forces Central Command.

Sharratt is one of three enlisted Marines charged with murdering civilians.

His attorneys, Gary Myers and James Culp, praised Ware's recommendation and report and said it contrasted with the "hysteria of some elements of the press and certain members of Congress."

In suburban Pittsburgh, Sharratt's parents were elated at the news.

"We had faith in the judicial process and faith in our son," said his mother, Theresa. "We're very happy. This is 99% of what we wanted. We're sure Gen. Mattis will make it 100%."

Sharratt, 22, stands accused of killing three Iraqis wantonly. In an unsworn statement during his preliminary hearing, he said he was searching a house for insurgents when he was confronted by two men carrying AK-47s.

Ware, a lawyer, recommended that charges against Sharratt be dropped and that the Marine be given immunity and required to testify at hearings for other defendants.

Ware said he did not believe the Iraqis who said Sharratt and another Marine forced the brothers into a room and executed them.

Believing the Iraqis, he wrote, could "set a dangerous precedent that, in my opinion, may encourage others to bear false witness against Marines as a tactic to erode public support of the Marine Corps and the U.S. mission in Iraq."

He added, "Even more dangerous is the potential that a Marine may hesitate at the critical moment when facing the enemy."

Four Marine officers are charged with dereliction of duty for not investigating whether the deaths of the 24 civilians that day constituted a war crime.

A hearing officer has recommended that the charge against Capt. Randy W. Stone, an attorney for the 3rd Battalion, 1st Regiment, not be sent to court-martial.

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tony.perry@latimes.com

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