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June 14th, 2007 - Marine Tells of Pointed Guns
At hearing on Haditha slayings, he says he killed 3 Iraqis after 2 of them aimed AK-47s at him.
By Tony Perry
Los Angeles Times
June 14, 2007
Camp Pendleton - A Marine lance corporal accused of executing three unarmed Iraqi brothers in Haditha told a hearing officer Thursday that he killed them after two of them pointed AK-47s at him while he searched their home for insurgents.
"I kept firing until my magazine was empty because I didn't know if they had body armor or suicide vests," Lance Cpl. Justin L. Sharratt told the hearing officer at his Article 32 inquiry, similar to a preliminary hearing. "As I fired at the other insurgents in the room, I felt as though they were coming toward me."
The statement was unsworn, and thus Sharratt was not required to answer questions from prosecutors.
Sharratt, 22, whose family lives in suburban Pittsburgh, said he opened fire instantly after seeing the AK-47s. Sharratt said his machine gun jammed and that he then used a 9-millimeter handgun he had borrowed from a Navy corpsman.
"There's an old saying among Marines," he told hearing officer Lt. Col. Paul Ware. "'I'd rather be judged by 12 of my peers instead of being carried in a casket by six of my friends.'"
Once the hearing is completed, Ware will recommend to Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis whether the case should go to court-martial, be dismissed or be handled administratively. Four officers and three enlisted Marines have been charged in the November 2005 killings of 24 civilians in Haditha.
"We did not execute any Iraqi males," Sharratt said in a strong, clear voice. "I am a disciplined Marine. … On Nov. 19, I did exactly as I was trained to do."
Prosecutors assert that the three Iraqi men were unarmed and that Sharratt and Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich killed them at close range without provocation.
Sharratt said he gave the AK-47s to a Marine the day of the incident. But testimony indicated that there was no clear record of the weapons being recovered at the house, although records do show two AK-47s being recovered somewhere in the neighborhood that day.
Prosecutors also assert that because the Iraqis were slain with a handgun, the killings were "execution-style," because troops rarely use handguns when assaulting houses. But a military pathologist said pictures of the dead men did not suggest that the fatal bullets were fired at close enough range to show the powder burns consistent with such a mode of killing.
Sharratt said he and other Marines went to "clear" the house after seeing male Iraqis repeatedly peeking at them over a wall. Marines said they thought the Iraqis might have been responsible for a roadside bomb that had exploded beneath a Marine convoy, killing one Marine and wounding two others.
At first, the clearing of houses went smoothly, Sharratt told Ware. Then in one house, he said, he heard in a back bedroom the distinct sound of AK-47s being prepared to fire.
"I knew if there were insurgents inside that room with weapons, … I had to move fast to establish fire superiority."
He told Ware that he would act the same today if put in the same situation.
"I will always be proud of my service in Iraq," he said. "And I will always be proud to be a Marine."
Sharratt was on his second combat tour in Iraq with the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. He received a combat action ribbon for his role in the battle in Fallouja in late 2004; the ribbon, at that time, was awarded only to Marines who came under fire and returned fire.
His parents, Theresa and Darryl Sharratt, have attended the hearing. The session Thursday involved several hours of testimony from a pathologist about the fatal wounds to the Iraqis; close-up pictures of the bodies were shown.
Theresa Sharratt said the pictures did not shake her faith in her son's innocence.
"Here's the way I look at it," she told a reporter. "Those men were trying to kill my son. I'd rather get a phone call [from him saying he's facing criminal charges] than have two Marines coming to my door telling me my son is dead."
By Thomas Watkins
June 14, 2007, 4:32PM
Camp Pendleton, Calif. - A Marine facing murder charges in a squad action that killed 24 Iraqi civilians told a military court today that one of the men he shot was pointing a weapon at him and that no Iraqis were executed.
Lance Cpl. Justin L. Sharratt gave an unsworn statement during his preliminary hearing on three counts of unpremeditated murder. Because it was unsworn, he could not be cross-examined.
His account followed testimony by a former member of the squad who said the Marines were not under machine-gun fire from insurgents when they carried out the Nov. 19, 2005, killings in Haditha. The claim runs counter to the key argument of the three Marines charged with murder - that they believed they were under attack and responded appropriately.
Sharratt acknowledged shooting several men, including one in the head. He said that man was pointing an AK-47 at him.
"I am disciplined and always try to act professionally. On Nov. 19 I acted as I had been trained to do," he said.
"We did not execute any Iraqis," he said in a statement that expressed pride in his service in Iraq and in the Marine Corps, and he thanked his parents for standing by him.
"I'd rather be tried by a jury of 12 of my peers than carried away in a casket by six," he said.
Earlier, there was testimony from Trent Graviss, who was a lance corporal in the squad at the time. He recently left active duty and is not charged in the deaths.
"To the best of your knowledge, was there an ambush on your squad?" asked prosecutor Capt. Christian Hur.
"No, sir," replied Graviss, who testified by telephone from his home in Kentucky.
The two dozen Iraqis were killed in and around several houses soon after a roadside bomb exploded and killed one Marine. Those charged have maintained the bomb was the start of a coordinated ambush on the U.S. convoy that was followed up with machine-gun fire.
The three men Sharratt is accused of murdering died in one of the homes. Defense attorneys showed photographs of four men who died there. All appeared to have been shot in the head, but several had blood on their torsos, indicating they could have been shot there, too.
Air Force Lt. Col. Elizabeth Rouse, a forensics expert, testified that it did not appear the men had been killed at close range.
The photographs were of poor quality, and in at least one picture it was not clear where the bullet entered the victim's head, though blood could be seen pooling in his ear.
Aside from Sharratt, squad leader Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich and Lance Cpl. Stephen B. Tatum are also charged with murder in the killings, the biggest U.S. criminal case of the Iraq war.
A fourth enlisted man, Sgt. Sanick P. Dela Cruz, was initially charged with murder, but prosecutors dismissed charges against him. Four officers are charged with dereliction of duty for failing to investigate the killings.
Both Wuterich and Tatum were in the public viewing area of the courtroom today.
During a recess, Wuterich's military attorney Lt. Col. Colby Vokey said he was not concerned about Graviss' testimony, as it is inconsistent to what other witnesses have testified.
"All the other testimony indicates that the Marines were receiving small-arms fire," Vokey said.
Graviss also described the moments immediately after the roadside bomb blast, when he heard Wuterich firing his machine gun. Graviss said he saw a "pink mist in the air where I assumed the people were, it was like a blood spatter in the air." Wuterich is accused of killing 18 people, including five men who were standing by a car.
Graviss said he went with Dela Cruz and an Iraqi soldier to clear a house close to the site of the explosion and detained two or three Iraqis but did not shoot anyone.