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Marine tells of civilians shot to death

May 10, 2007|From the Associated Press

CAMP PENDLETON — A Marine squad leader who led an attack in Haditha, Iraq, that killed 24 civilians shot five men as they stood with their hands up and told comrades to lie about it, a Marine sergeant testified Wednesday.

Sgt. Sanick P. Dela Cruz said that in the moments after a roadside bomb hit a Humvee in his convoy Nov. 19, 2005, killing a comrade, he saw five men standing by a white car with their hands interlocked behind their heads. The squad leader, Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, then fired about six to eight rounds at the men, Dela Cruz testified.

"They were just standing, looking around, had hands up," Dela Cruz said. "Then I saw one of them drop in the middle. I didn't know what was going on, sir. Looked to my left, saw Staff Sgt. Wuterich shooting."

Dela Cruz spoke at a preliminary hearing for Capt. Randy W. Stone, a Marine lawyer from Dunkirk, Md. Stone is accused along with three other officers of dereliction of duty for failing to investigate the deaths.

Three enlisted Marines are charged with murder, including Wuterich. It is the biggest U.S. criminal case involving civilian deaths in the Iraq war.

Stone's civilian attorney, Charles Gittins, contends that Stone, 34, did nothing wrong because he thought the killings were a legitimate outcome of combat. Gittins said that his client reported the incident up the chain of command and had been told not to investigate further.

After Wuterich shot the five men, Dela Cruz "sprayed" the bodies with automatic gunfire, he said. "I knew they were dead. I wanted to make sure," Dela Cruz said.

Dela Cruz initially was charged with murder, but prosecutors dismissed charges against him last month. He has been given immunity in exchange for his testimony.

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