CAMP PENDLETON, UNITED STATES // After years of appeals and delays, the last US marine charged over the 2005 killings of 24 civilians in the Iraqi town of Haditha faced a court martial yesterday.
Staff sergeant Frank Wuterich, 31, faces nine counts of voluntary manslaughter and other charges for his role in the November 19, 2005, deaths.
Many of the victims were women and children.
"He's going to be glad to have it over, because he knows that he'll be exonerated," said Sgt Wuterich's lawyer, Neal Puckett.
"The world will know [that] the truth about what happened at Haditha can't be attributed to his criminal behaviour, and he just needs to move on with his life."
Sgt Wuterich, who had no previous combat experience, was the squad leader who sent his men into a village to hunt for insurgents following a roadside bombing that killed a marine and injured two others.
Nineteen civilians died inside houses, along with five men who pulled up near the bombing scene in a car.
The marines said 15 Iraqis had been killed by the roadside bomb that left the marine dead.
But a subsequent investigation by Time magazine showed that most of the dead were killed as marines swept through three houses near the bombing site. Lawyers for the marines claimed that insurgents hid behind civilian homes and opened fire first.
But the plaintiffs said there were no such militants and that the marines initiated a three-hour rampage to avenge the death of their comrade.
Among the victims, 10 were women or children, killed at point-blank range.
Sgt Wuterich's attorneys had exhausted all possible appeals, including an attempt to dismiss charges based on the forced retirement of one of the military defence attorneys.