The LA Times, and others are reporting PTA negotiations may be ongoing.

The court-martial of Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich in the killing of 24 Iraqis in 2005 is set to resume Thursday afternoon at Camp Pendleton amid indications prosecutors and defense lawyers may negotiate a plea bargain.

The military judge, Lt. Col. David Jones, abruptly recessed the trial Wednesday afternoon, telling the lawyers to discuss "other options." He added he would be available for consultation.

12 Responses to “United States v. Wuterich”

  1. k fischer says:

    “Hal, what did that mean?”

    Am I crazy for thinking that it sounds pretty bad for the Government when the Judge abruptly recesses a trial and tells the lawyers to discuss other options?

    I had a Federal judge ask the SAUSA at my Soldier client’s DUI arraignment if it was possible that the case could be worked out.  He stood his ground and it took the jury all of 27 minutes to acquit my client.  My client was found in the front seat of his car, blew a .25, and the MP testified that the engine was running and the wheels were spinning when he approached the car.  I accused him of testilying. 

    Anybody know what Judge Jones meant?

  2. Hmmm..... says:

    This is strange.  Some articles talk about a dismissal being possible.  Never heard of a judge recessing without a request from one of the parties and telling the parties to look at their options.  If the judge already denied a 917 motion it is highly unlikely he has the authority to just dismiss the case at this point. He likewise arguably cannot revisit his 917 ruling until all the evidence is in. “917. The military judge, on motion by the accused or sua sponte, shall enter a finding of not guilty of one or more offenses charged after the evidence on either side is closed and before findings on the general issue of guilt are announced if the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction of the offense affected.”

  3. Phil Cave says:

    A recess was extended until Friday morning in the manslaughter trial of Staff. Sgt. Frank Wuterich. The judge, Lt. Col. David Jones,excused jurors shortly after lunch Wednesday afternoon for Thursday, before a prosecution witness could finish testimony.
    The recess was then delayed until Friday morning.

  4. Phil Cave says:

    The Court of Military Appeals has recently reiterated its position that, under certain circumstances, the MJ may set aside a finding of guilty after announcement.  See United States v. Scaff, 29 M.J. 60 (C.M.A. 1989); United States v. Griffith, 27 M.J. 42 (C.M.A. 1988) — post-findings favorites of mine.  Maybe Jones is giving a heads-up, or maybe the request actually comes from other sources.

  5. Cap'n Crunch says:

    Can’t say that, if I were representing SSG Wuterich, I would advise my client to agree to anything other than dismissal of the charges, acceptance of NJP, and an administrative discharge.  I don’t see where this trial has gone at all like the government may have hoped…

  6. Phil Cave says:

    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.

  7. Don Rehkopf says:

    Just heard that he took a plea to Dereliction of Duty!

  8. soonergrunt says:

    @ Don Rehkopf–
    Correct, Sir.  From the BBC:

    The final US Marine to face charges over the killing of unarmed Iraqi civilians in Haditha in 2005 has pleaded guilty to dereliction of duty.  Sgt Frank Wuterich was one of eight Marines originally charged with murder or failure to investigate the killings.  The charges against six of them were dropped or dismissed, and one was acquitted.  Sgt Wuterich reached a plea deal to bring an end to the most notorious case against US troops from the Iraq war.  He faces a maximum of three months confinement, two-thirds forfeiture of pay and a rank demotion to private.

    Paragraph breaks removed.

  9. Don Rehkopf says:

    SG – LOL, that’s where I “heard” it as well.  Pretty bad when we get military justice news about one of our Marines being court-martialed in California, from the BBC!

  10. A. Hernandez says:

    Here is a link for The Guardian:

    Not that we’ll ever know, but I can understand the decision to accept this plea from the defense side, but I can’t from the Government’s.  You either believe that what he did was criminal, go forward and take it to a verdict, or deal with it at a lower level than a GCM.  Can’t think the prosecutors must have been happy when told that this deal would be accepted.  On the other hand, depending to what specifically he pleads to, this should be the strongest dereliction of duty sentencing argument ever made by a trial counsel!

  11. Charlie Gittins says:

    On the other hand, depending to what specifically he pleads to, this should be the strongest dereliction of duty sentencing argument ever made by a trial counsel!

    Really, Amilcar?  The judge gave every indication he was going to grant a 917.  The P’s got the best they were going to get; given the testimony, I am sure the P’s will grossly overstate their case and look like the boobs they have proven to be over multiple prosecutions that have ultimately failed.

  12. Cap'n Crunch says:

    Difficult call for the accused.  No BCD, which is a plus.  No +1 year sentencing, which shouldn’t be a felony conviction.  However, the reduction is a pretty huge sting.  Given the testimony in this case, I cannot say that taking this deal would be a easy decision.  I cannot say that I would advise a client to take it.  I suppose, at one level, the accused has removed all of the major risk from the case (and years and years on confinement as well as a BCD/DD from the table).  But the entire thing stinks from where I sit.  I am convinced that you basically have a scapegoat who was in a terrible situation, made some tough calls that he believed were in the best interest of the troops he led, and some terrible things happened.  A tragedy does not equal a crime.

    Was the shoot first order negligent?  I don’t know… I am not convinced based on the testimony in this matter.  This plea deal has to be a tough call for SSG Wuterich.

    If I were the military judge, I’d sentence him to no punishment.