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Originally published August 10, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 10, 2007 at 2:08 AM

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Haditha charges against two dismissed

All charges have been dismissed against two Marines accused in the killings of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha, the Marine Corps announced...

The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — All charges have been dismissed against two Marines accused in the killings of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha, the Marine Corps announced Thursday.

Lance Cpl. Justin L. Sharratt, 22, of Canonsburg, Pa., was charged with murdering three brothers. Capt. Randy Stone, 35, a battalion lawyer from Dunkirk, Md., was charged with failing to adequately report and investigate the Nov. 19, 2005, combat action in which women and children were among the dead.

In his decision to dismiss charges, Lt. Gen. James Mattis, the commanding general with jurisdiction in the case, said he was sympathetic to the challenges Marines on the ground face in Iraq.

"Where the enemy disregards any attempt to comply with ethical norms of warfare, we exercise discipline and restraint to protect the innocent caught on the battlefield," Mattis wrote in his letter to Sharratt.

Four enlisted Marines were initially charged with murder, and four officers were charged with failing to investigate. Prosecutors dropped charges against one of the enlisted men, Sgt. Sanick P. Dela Cruz of Chicago, and gave him immunity to testify against his squad mates.

Squad leader Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich of Meriden, Conn., faces 18 counts of murder. He is scheduled to attend a preliminary hearing Aug. 22. The other enlisted Marine, Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum of Edmond, Okla., has attended a preliminary hearing, but no recommendation has been made about whether he should stand trial for murder.

Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani of Rangely, Colo., is the only other officer aside from Stone to attend an initial hearing, known as an Article 32 investigation. The investigator for Chessani recommended he face a court-martial on charges of dereliction of duty for failing to investigate.

The two dozen Iraqis died after a roadside bomb killed Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, of El Paso, Texas, who was driving a Humvee. After the blast, Marines shot a group of men by a car and cleared several houses with grenades and gunfire. The Marines have said they believed the houses were occupied by insurgents, but the victims included elderly people, women and children, including several who were slain in bed.

Prosecutors alleged Sharratt and other members of his squad did not properly identify their targets before opening fire, but Mattis concluded Sharratt acted within the rules of engagement.

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