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Associated Press
Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich leaves after a court session at Camp Pendleton in Camp Pendleton, Calif., Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — The lone Marine convicted in his squad's killing of two dozen unarmed civilians in one of the Iraq War's defining moments escaped jail time Tuesday after defending his order to raid homes in Haditha as a necessary act "to keep the rest of my Marines alive."

The sentencing of Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich ends a six-year prosecution for the 2005 attack that failed to win any manslaughter convictions. Eight Marines were initially charged. One was acquitted, and six others had their cases dropped.

Wuterich admitted he ordered is squad to "shoot first, ask questions later" after a roadside bomb killed a fellow Marine as part of a deal that ended his manslaughter trial with a guilty plea Monday to a single count of negligent dereliction of duty.

The deal that dropped nine counts of manslaughter sparked outrage in the besieged Iraqi town and claims that the U.S. didn't hold the military accountable.

"I was expecting that the American judiciary would sentence this person to life in prison and that he would appear and confess in front of the whole world that he committed this crime, so that America could show itself as democratic and fair," said survivor Awis Fahmi Hussein, showing his scars from a bullet wound to the back.

The military judge, Lt. Col. David Jones, initially recommended the maximum sentence of three months for Wuterich, saying, "It's difficult for the court to fathom negligent dereliction of duty worse than the facts in this case."

But after opening an envelope to look at the terms of the plea agreement, as is procedure in military court, Jones announced the deal prevented any jail time for the Marine.