Frank Wuterich, a US Marine squad leader charged over the killing of 24 Iraqis in 2005, will have his pay and rank cut but will serve no prison time, a military judge has ruled.
The ruling by Lt. Col. David Jones came, according to the LA Times, after Wuterich "took responsibility during his sentencing hearing at Camp Pendleton for the killings in the Euphrates River town of Haditha and expressed remorse to the victims' families."
Despite that, he told Wuterich: "It's difficult for the court to fathom negligent dereliction of duty worse than the facts in this case."
Wuterich was the last of eight Marines charged in the Haditha killings, compared by one US congressman to the 1968 Vietnam massacre at My Lai, to have his case resolved.
Six of the Marines had the charges against them dropped, and one Marine was acquitted after what amounted to a 6-year-long investigation and prosecution.
The LA Times wrote that the Wuterich ruling was likely to "further inflame anti-US sentiment in Iraq."
Wuterich, 31, of Meriden, Connecticut, originally faced 152 years in prison on nine counts of involuntary manslaughter, two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon and three counts of dereliction of duty in the November 19, 2005, killings — charges he has vehemently denied.
The killings were portrayed by Iraqi witnesses and prosecutors as a massacre of unarmed Iraqi men, women and children, "carried out by Marines in anger after a member of their unit was killed by a roadside bomb," Today Online reported.
Defense lawyers argued the deaths resulted from a fast-moving combat situation in which the Marines believed they were under enemy fire.
Jones said he had planned to recommend 90 days in the brig, but that the plea bargain approved by the prosecution had called for no jail time.
Wuterich was sentenced to a demotion to the rank of private, the lowest rank in the service, a day after he pleaded guilty to a single count of dereliction of duty.