Skip to comments.The Trial of SSgt Wuterich Day One: Chessani Will Not Testify
Posted on 01/06/2012 4:19:29 AM PST by RedRover
Camp Pendleton, Calif. LtCol. Jeffrey Chessani, battalion commanding officer of the Thundering Third at time of the so-called Haditha Massacre", will not be testifying at the court-martial of SSgt Frank Wuterich, the military judge said Thursday. Chessani was the highest ranking Marine charged with a crime in connection with the deaths of 24 Iraqi citizens following a roadside ambush in the dusty Iraqi city during November 2005.
Chessani will not be a witness, announced military judge LtCol. David Jones.
We lost that battle, said chief defense attorney Neal Puckett, himself a former Marine military judge.
Chessani was one of the witnesses the government objected to during pre-trial negotiations to determine who and who would not be called to testify. When asked if the defense was disappointed by the decision, Puckett, a retired lieutenant colonel, said his defense team had tried vigorously to bring Chessani back to Camp Pendleton one last time. Puckett is assisted by his partner Haytham Faraj, a retired Marine major and experienced Haditha defense counsel who achieved a high profile during the often contentious pre-trial Article 32 hearings in 2007. Wuterichs detailed Marine counsel is Maj. Meredith Nelson.
The government is represented by veteran prosecutors Maj. Nicholas Gannon assisted by LtCol. Sean Sullivan, well known during the early pre-trial investigations for his fiery temper and forceful court room manner.
During the investigation of the November 19, 2005 incident at Haditha, Iraq, Chessani commanded 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines. He was frequently quoted during the reporters feeding frenzy that followed the accusations as vehemently saying, My men are not murderers when apprised of massacre allegations by a Time magazine reporter. The story Tim McGirk wrote, dubbed the Haditha Massacre by the excitable scribes who followed, morphed into a full-blown criminal investigation that changed the way Marines in Iraq fought the war.
Chessani, a career infantry officer with a brilliant combat record, left the Marine Corps with his rank and retirement privileges intact after being exonerated of all criminal charges. Six other defendants, three officers and three enlisted Marines, have also been exonerated by various means. Wuterich is the last Haditha defendant to face charges and the second whose case is being disposed of by general court-martial.
[Note: Chessani spoke out about the case for the first time to Defend Our Marines on July 21, 2010. Read the first in a three-part series here]
The business of the day however was not disposing of the charges. It was voir dire day, the first of two days the lawyers will apparently need to decide who will be seated on the panel, the name military courts use to identify the jury.
Eleven senior Marines, five officers and six non-commissioned officers, have been detailed as potential jurors panelists in military parlance to determine the guilt or innocence of SSgt Frank D. Wuterich. They include a full-bird colonel, two lieutenant colonels, a major, one captain, a master gunnery sergeant, a first sergeant, two master sergeants and two gunnery sergeants. Military law considers them to be Wuterichs peers, and therefore eligible to judge him.
The gunnery sergeants are the two potential jurors closest in rank to Wuterich, who is entitled to a panel in which one-third of the members are enlisted men. Staff sergeants such as Wuterich hold the pay grade of E-6. Gunnery sergeants, commonly referred to as gunnys, are E-7s. Although the pay grade numbers are close, the status and influence of a gunnery sergeant vastly surpasses that of his E-6 subordinates.
Based on the assortment of decoration visible in the assemblage, there are a lot of hardcore fighting men among the Marines who will ultimately decide Wuterich's fate.
According to testimony offered Thursday, the potential panelists were given a questionnaire to complete during the Christmas holiday season by the chief of staff of the 1st Marine Division. After a review of their answers, the potential panelists were notified last week they would be part of the pool of potential jurors now being quizzed in the cramped courtroom at Camp Pendleton. Most of them said they did not know they would be involved in the Haditha matter until they were selected for the panel pool.
Lawyers from both sides of the courtroom spent most of Thursday tediously and repetitively grilling the potential panelists to determine whether they will ultimately decide Wuterichs fate. First they asked the entire 11-member pool general questions and then cleared the court room and summoned each individual in for a personal interrogation.
The process is similar to a civilian courts voir dire procedure, with both sides trying to select Marines that seem sympathetic to their side of the infamous case. As simple as it sounds, it is not an easy process, lawyers are quick to admit. Pre-hearing procedures, rules of law, and judges who want to get on with the proceeding dictate what kind of questions will be asked and in what manner they may be phrased.
At the conclusion of the voir dire process, as few as five or as many as all eleven of the potential panelists will be seated, said Marine Corps PAO LtCol Joseph Kloppel. In the meantime the attorneys will try and divine from the answers of the jury pool who they want on the panel.
Common wisdom says enlisted men prefer enlisted panelists and prosecutors prefer officers, who they believe more closely follow the customs and traditions of their caste, Kloppel opined.
At least thats what I think, he explained.
The 31-year old Marine infantryman and former squad leader, is charged with nine counts of Voluntary Manslaughter, two counts of Assault with a Dangerous Weapon, and three counts of Dereliction of Duty for his role in the deaths of 15 Iraqi citizens who were killed after Wuterichs 12-man squad was ambushed on November 19, 2005 while on a resupply convoy.
LtCol. Jones Thursday morning asked the potential panelists whether they could give fair consideration to sentencing Wuterich to a dishonorable discharge and more than 157 years in prison for his role in leading a fireteam of Marines that killed the civilians more than six years ago. All raised their hands in affirmation.
SSgt. Wuterich was present during the day, listening intently and occasionally making notes.
During the proceedings, potential panelists heard a laundry list of familiar names, all players in the six year investigation of the alleged massacre that captured the attention of the world when it was revealed in early 2006. The government is expected to call about 40 prosecution witnesses, including several Marines who were granted testimonial immunity in exchange for their testimony.
LtCol. David Jones told the potential panelists they should expect to be in the tiny, austere courtroom at Camp Pendleton for as long as four weeks.
Nat Helms will be covering every day of the trial. You can find updates and more information as we have it throughout the day on the SSgt Wuterich court martial master thread.
Why are they going after this guy if the other seven have been cleared of their charges?
Because the media demands it.
Prayers for Sgt. Wuterich and his family. I expect nothing less than a not guilty verdict. Let this brave young man be completelyexonerated. And apologized to. let him get on with his life.
Spitting mad SueRae.
p.s. damn you, Murtha
I do not understand how LtCol Chessani can legitimately be excluded from the witness list. He is the flippin’ battalion commander of the Staff Sergeant on trial regarding a day-long engagement that involved more than one element of LtCol Chessani’s command.
Are these nimrod legal beagles so far removed from the battlefield that they don’t realize battalion commanders and E-6 level NCO’s interact on a daily basis?
I would immediately write this down as a reason for appeal. They are denying Wuterich a material witness who can testify as to the ROEs in effect, how they were communicated, the entire scope of the attacks that day, and this particular attack against Wuterich’s squad.
I am amazed at this decision.
It’s like questioning the shift cook at Burger King but not allowing the manager to be questioned. Yep, he didn’t fill the burger order, but we’re not allowed to know corporate didn’t send the supplies.
On the other hand, there were basically three separate actions and SSgt Wuterich was involved in all three.
The first was the shooting at the "white taxi", second at "houses one, two, and three", and lastly at "house four". (See diagram below.
The other charges that have been dropped related to the houses. The main hope of the prosecution will be the "white taxi". They have a witness, Sgt Dela Cruz, who bombed at the Article 32 hearing so it's still a shaky case at best.
Was any particular reason given for the decision?
it may be that Chessani would say something that would implicate himself in further charges
Sgt Larry Hutchins, of the PENDLETON 8 case, was released, charges dropped, went back to an active duty unit, given all back pay, to now be charged again and heis in the brig in California awaiting charges
Obama didn’t use these cases to show how GWB and the Politically Correct Marine Corps Leadership let these men hang after they followed orders, he is using these charges to show Americans are murderers
Murtha’s already damned. I just hope that turd is fully aware that the discomfort he feels is eternal.
Hey, chaplain! Great to see you!
Seems the prosecution is focusing on actions that morning and even though Chessani was battalion commander, he was a distant observer.
Then-captain Dinsmore will be a witness to the broader insurgent actions that day and a very good witness he’ll be.
Still, given the length of the witness list, this is still a bad surprise.
Thanks for the prayers and the damnation! May both be answered!
None was given yesterday but we’ll post more info if we get it.
Hi guys. My sense is that if the defense wanted him as a witness and the judge denied it that the defense had a reason for wanting him that was important to them.
In any case, I’d chalk it up as a legal decision that affected the trial, and therefore, grounds for an appeal.
Hi, fatima! Your prayer circles have always been appreciated and Frank and his family could use it now!
RedRover,Tell Frank I will say a rosary on the way to work today for his intention.Special prayers on the way from all of us.((((Hugs))))
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