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Attorney: 7 Marines, sailor face murder charges

A defense attorney said Thursday that military prosecutors plan to charge seven Marines and a sailor with murder and other charges in the death of an Iraqi civilian in April.
/ Source: NBC News and news services

Military prosecutors plan to file murder, kidnapping and conspiracy charges against seven Marines and a Navy corpsman in the shooting death of an Iraqi man in April, a defense lawyer said Thursday.

The eight men are being held in the brig at Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base north of San Diego, said Jeremiah Sullivan III, who represents one of the men.

The men served in Iraq with the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, and are members of the battalion’s Kilo Company. The highest-ranking among them is a staff sergeant.

Sullivan said he learned from Marine Corps attorneys that the charges have been drafted and official charging documents could be given to the men as early as Friday.

Separately, another group of five Marines in Kilo Company, including a lieutenant who commanded the platoon, are under investigation for injuring a suspect in their custody, according to a defense attorney who has been contacted by the family of one of the Marines. He spoke Thursday only on condition of anonymity because he has not taken on the case.

The Iraqi man was killed west of Baghdad on April 26. His death was unrelated to the shootings of as many as two dozen civilians in the western Iraqi city of Haditha. The Pentagon is investigating troops from the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment in that case.

The Marine Corps and Pentagon spokesmen have refused to comment on any aspect of the Iraqi’s death since an investigation was announced May 24.

However, a Pentagon official said Thursday that charges are expected to be brought “very soon.” The official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to discuss charges before they are filed, could not confirm the specific counts.

Sullivan said the eight men are being held in solitary confinement.

Haditha incident looms large
“There’s concern about the publicity of Haditha having a detrimental impact on the case,” he said. “My concern is that the whole politics of this. There’s an assumption that these guys are guilty before there’s been an opportunity for a thorough, impartial investigation.”

Under military law, after charges are served defendants have the right to an Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a civilian grand jury investigation.

An investigating officer presides over the hearing and makes a recommendation to the Marine general who directed the investigation. The general has the final say whether to order a court-martial and what charges, if any, the defendants will face.

on May 25, when military officials told NBC's Jim Miklaszewski that seven Marines were believed to have dragged an innocent Iraqi man from his home in April, killed him in cold blood and then tried to conceal the crime.

The alleged incident occurred April 26 in the town of Hamandiyah. The Marines are accused of dragging the innocent man from his home, shooting him to death, then planting an AK-47 rifle and a shovel next to his body, apparently to make it appear the man had been burying an IED, one of the roadside bombs that have been so deadly to U.S. forces in Iraq.

Further, military officials told NBC that at least one of the Marines had reportedly confessed in the killing. The officials said they found the allegations especially disturbing because the case appeared to have been a premeditated killing and not carried out in the heat of combat.