CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (AP) — Proceedings were stalled for a second day Thursday in the military trial of a major Iraq war crimes case, but court was expected to reconvene Friday.
A military judge excused the all-Marine jury Wednesday and lawyers were asked to explore their options, fueling speculation that a plea deal was in the works that could end the trial of Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich of Meriden, Conn.
Wuterich led a squad that killed 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians during raids on homes in the town of Haditha in 2005 after a roadside bomb killed one Marine.
But defense attorney Neal Puckett told The Associated Press late Thursday that he expected a full day of testimony Friday, with a squad mate and a forensic scientist with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service expected to take the stand.
Puckett said prosecutors also will show outtakes that Wuterich gave in 2007 to CBS's "60 Minutes." The trial was delayed for years by pre-trial wrangling between the defense and prosecution, including over whether the military could use the unaired outtakes. Prosecutors eventually won the right to view the footage.
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.
Wuterich is one of eight Marines initially charged. None has been convicted.
His squad members have testified during the trial, which started 10 days ago. Several said they did not positively identify their targets before opening fire and tossing grenades into two homes near the bomb site. Some also said they did not believe the squad did anything wrong because they believed insurgents were in the homes.
The raid went on for 45 minutes. The Marines found no weapons or insurgents, and they met no gunfire in the homes. Among the dead were women, children and elderly, including a man in a wheelchair.
Six squad members have had charges dropped or dismissed, and one was acquitted.