updated 12/4/2007 6:24:18 PM ET 2007-12-04T23:24:18

A prosecutor says the case against a Marine reservist accused of murdering an Iraqi soldier is simple: It's about 17 stab wounds and 26 slashes.

"It's about murder and lies," Maj. Christopher Shaw told jurors Tuesday during opening statements in the court-martial of Lance Cpl. Delano Holmes, who is accused of killing the soldier while the two were on guard duty in Fallujah.

Holmes' defense attorney told the jury of three officers and five enlisted personnel that Holmes killed the soldier in self-defense, in a split-second decision in a war zone where snipers were targeting U.S. troops.

"He did exactly what he believed he had to do," said civilian attorney Steve Cook.

Holmes has pleaded innocent to charges of unpremeditated murder and making a false statement. If convicted on all counts, Holmes faces life imprisonment with the possibility of parole.

Holmes, 22, from Indianapolis, is accused of stabbing Pvt. Munther Jasem Muhammed Hassin to death on Dec. 31, 2006.

The killing occurred in the pre-dawn darkness after Hassin allegedly opened his cell phone, then lit a cigarette at the post, Cook said.

An argument over a cigarette
The men were not supposed to display any illuminated objects because of the threat of sniper fire, and Holmes made repeated attempts to get Hassin to extinguish the cigarette, Cook said.

Holmes maintains he knocked the cigarette out of the soldier's hand and the two got into a fight, falling to the ground. During the struggle, Holmes felt Hassin reaching for his loaded AK-47, so he stabbed him with a bayonet that doubles as a utility knife that was attached to his jacket.

"He continues stabbing the Iraqi until the Iraqi is no longer fighting back," Cook said. Holmes acted as he was trained to, he said.

But Shaw told jurors that Holmes killed the soldier and then set up the scene, firing the soldier's AK-47. He also told jurors Holmes was covered in blood but "had no injuries whatsoever."

"The accused had a radio. If he had a problem, he could have used the radio to call for help," Shaw said.

Cook said military prosecutors rushed to judgment against Holmes, based on a poor investigation. He told jurors the investigating agent never went to the guard post, which sits in the shadow of an abandoned building that had been used to launch attacks on troops at the post.

"He didn't want to get shot at the crime scene," Cook said.

Holmes, who is being held in the brig at Camp Pendleton, enlisted in the Marine reserves in May 2004 and was on his first deployment in Iraq, Cook said. He is from the 1st Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, based out of Lansing, Mich.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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