updated 5/29/2008 2:40:58 PM ET 2008-05-29T18:40:58

A Marine intelligence officer was alternately portrayed at his court-martial Thursday as a liar who helped cover up the killings of 24 Iraqi men, women and children and the “fall guy” for a botched investigation.

Lt. Col. Paul H. Atterbury, the prosecutor, said in his opening statement that Lt. Andrew Grayson lied to investigators to help cover up the Nov. 19, 2005, killings in the Iraqi city of Haditha. But Grayson’s defense attorney said the officer had no motive to lie about the killings because he wasn’t there when they happened.

“Lieutenant Grayson is nothing more than a fall guy in a botched investigation under intense media pressure,” Maj. William A. Santmyer told the jury of seven officers.

Grayson, of Springboro, Ohio, is the first of the three remaining defendants in the case to go to trial. He faces a maximum of 25 years in prison, forfeiture of all pay and dismissal from the Marine Corps, if found guilty of all charges.

Atterbury told jurors there are key undisputed facts in the case: A roadside bomb killed a Marine and wounded two others and two hours later the squad’s actions resulted in the deaths of the 24 men, women and children.

Four enlisted Marines were initially charged with murder, though charges were later dropped against three and reduced for the fourth, Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich. In addition, four commissioned officers were accused of failing to investigate or covering up the incident, but charges remain against only two: Grayson and Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani.

After the bombing, investigators say, Wuterich and a squad member shot five men by a car at the scene. Wuterich then allegedly ordered his squad into several houses, where they cleared rooms with grenades and gunfire, killing unarmed civilians.

Did he order photos deleted?
Grayson was not present at the scene of the killings but is accused of telling a sergeant to delete photographs of the dead from his digital camera.

Santmyer said the only connection between Grayson and the Haditha case were pictures.

“What the evidence will not show and what the government will not be able to show is a motive for the misconduct Grayson is alleged to have committed,” he said.

Grayson is charged with two counts of making false official statements, two counts of trying to fraudulently separate from service, and one count each of attempt to deceive by making false statements and obstruction of justice by trying to impede an investigation.

Grayson, who says he did nothing wrong, rejected a plea deal under which his charges would have been dismissed in exchange for an admission that he covered up the killings, his attorney has said.

Wuterich, of Meriden, Conn., faces voluntary manslaughter and other charges. Chessani, of Rangely, Colo., is charged with dereliction of duty and violation of a lawful order on allegations he mishandled the aftermath of the shooting deaths. Chessani was a battalion commander.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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