Attorney: Officer says to drop Haditha charges

By Allison Hoffman, The Associated Press
Article Launched: 06/10/2007 12:00:00 AM PDT

SAN DIEGO - Charges against a Marine lawyer accused of failing to investigate the killings of 24 Iraqis in the town of Haditha should be dismissed, the officer's attorney said the investigating officer in the case has recommended.

Capt. Randy W. Stone, 34, was charged with failing to report and investigate the deaths of the men, women and children in a deadly sweep on a chaotic day of battle in the village. The battalion lawyer is one of four officers charged in the killings.

His attorney, Charles Gittins, said Saturday that investigating officer Maj. Thomas McCann concluded in a report to the commanding general overseeing the case that Stone should not face court-martial, and the matter should be handled administratively.

The recommendation is nonbinding. A final decision will be made by Lt. Gen. James Mattis, the commanding general overseeing the case.

Stone, from Dunkirk, Md., faces up to

2 1/2 years in prison and dismissal if his case goes to trial and he is convicted.

Camp Pendleton spokesman Lt. Col. Sean Gibson declined to comment until Mattis makes his final decision.

Also on Saturday, one of Stone's fellow officers, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, made an unsworn statement in preliminary hearings to determine whether he should face trial on charges of dereliction of duty and violating a lawful order for failing to investigate the deaths in Haditha.

The two dozen people were killed as a Marine squad went house to house looking for those responsible for a roadside bomb that killed one Marine and hurt two others.

The Marines have said they believed they were taking fire from the houses. They used fragmentation grenades and machine guns to clear the homes, but instead of hitting insurgents, they killed civilians.

During the statement, which took fewer than 10 minutes to deliver, Chessani told the officer overseeing his hearing that he believes he broke no laws in the aftermath.

"Hindsight is 20/20," Chessani told Col. Christopher Conlin. "I did not believe that my actions and my decisions were criminal, sir."

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