April 18, 2007 in Nation/World

Marines drop charges for testimony in Iraq killings

Thomas Watkins Associated Press

LOS ANGELES – The Marines Corps said Tuesday it had dropped all charges against a sergeant and that he will testify at the trials of fellow Marines accused of killing 24 civilians in Haditha, the deadliest criminal case to arise from the Iraq war.

Sgt. Sanick P. Dela Cruz, 24, had been charged with unpremeditated murder in the deaths of five Iraq civilians.

Lt. Gen. James Mattis had made the decision to dismiss the charges against Dela Cruz on April 2 and grant immunity. The announcement was made Tuesday without explanation.

“Dela Cruz is required to testify,” Marine spokesman Lt. Col. Sean Gibson said.

Dela Cruz’s attorney, Dan Marino, declined to comment on the case.

The Marine squad had suffered a fatality on Nov. 19, 2005, when its convoy was rocked by a roadside bomb blast. In the aftermath of the explosion, the troops are accused of killing 24 Iraqis in Haditha.

Four enlisted Marines were charged with unpremeditated murder, and four officers were charged with failing to adequately report the deaths.

The troops have maintained their innocence, saying they believed they were under attack and followed proper procedures to defend themselves.

Dela Cruz could be a potent witness for the prosecution. However, it’s not clear whether his compelled testimony will undermine his fellow Marines’ claims or support them.

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