The last U.S. Marine charged in the killings of 24 Iraqi civilians will stand trial this week in one of the most controversial criminal cases of the Iraq War.
Jury selection begins Thursday for Marine Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich, who faces nine counts of voluntary manslaughter and other charges for his role in the November 2005 killings.
The 31-year-old was the leader of a Marine squad that stormed Iraqi homes in the town of Haditha, leaving many Iraqi women and children dead. Attorneys for the Marines say they were searching for those responsible for a roadside bombing that killed a Marine and wounded two others. Prosecutors say they were out to get revenge for the death of their fellow soldier.
Opening arguments are expected to begin Friday in the military trial being held at Camp Pendleton in southern California. Wuterich's lawyer says the defendant is confident that he will be acquitted.
Wuterich is the last of eight Marines charged in the case. Six have had charges dropped or dismissed and one was acquitted.
Wuterich also faces charges of aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, dereliction of duty and obstruction of justice.
A full investigation began after Time magazine broke the story in early 2006. The case was pushed back for years due to a delay in evidence gathering and an attempt by Wuterich's lawyers to dismiss the charges.
Cases like that of Wuterich have fueled anger across Iraq and are said to be one of the key reasons for the failure of Iraqi-U.S. negotiations to extend the December 31, 2011 withdrawal deadline. The Iraqi government was demanding that U.S. forces be subjected to Iraqi law if they remained in the country.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.