CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — Court proceedings were stalled for a second day Thursday in the military trial of a major Iraq war crimes case after a military judge told lawyers to explore their options.
Attorneys did not respond to inquiries asking if a deal was being discussed that could end the trial of Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, who led the squad that killed 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians during raids on homes in the town of Haditha in 2005 after a roadside bomb killed one Marine.
The all-Marine jury at Camp Pendleton, Calif., was excused after a lunch break Wednesday.
The judge, Lt. Col. David Jones, told lawyers after jurors left the room to explore their options. He called for the court to be back in session at 1 p.m. Thursday. But 30 minutes before then, military officials told reporters the jury had been informed not to come back until Friday morning.
Marine spokesman Lt. Col. Joseph Kloppel said lawyers and prosecutors declined to comment on what was causing the delay and whether they were working on an agreement that could end the trial.
Wuterich has said he regretted the loss of civilian lives but believed he was operating within military combat rules.
Prosecutors have argued Wuterich lost control of himself after seeing the body of his friend blown apart by the bomb.
The incident still fuels anger in Iraq today and was a main reason behind the country's demands that U.S. troops not be given immunity from its legal system. Those demands were the deal breaker in keeping forces there after the war ended in December.
Wuterich is one of eight Marines initially charged. None has been convicted.
Several of his squad members have testified during the trial that started 10 days ago that they did not positively identify their targets before opening fire and tossing grenades into two homes near the bomb site. Several also said they did not believe the squad did anything wrong because they believed insurgents were in the homes. The raid went on for 45 minutes. The Marines found no weapons or insurgents, and they met no gunfire. Among the dead were women, children and elderly, including a man in a wheelchair.
Six squad members have had charges dropped or dismissed, and one was acquitted.
The trial was delayed for years by pre-trial wrangling between the defense and prosecution, including over whether the military could use unaired outtakes from an interview Wuterich gave in 2007 to CBS "60 Minutes." Prosecutors eventually won the right to view the footage.