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Marine Spared Jail Time in Iraq Killings

Marine Corps Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich arrives for a pre-trial hearing with his lawyer Neal A. Puckett and girlfriend Melissa Balcombe at Camp Pendleton, California March 22, 2010.

The last Marine to face a court martial in the deaths of 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians was spared any jail time for his role in the killings that brought international condemnation of American troops.

In the military courtroom at Camp Pendleton, Califorinia, Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich expressed remorse and his sorrow for the deaths. But he told the military judge that he did not fire at any women or children.

Wuterich pleaded guilty Monday to a charge of negligent dereliction of duty. On Tuesday, he was sentenced to 90 days of confinement, but will not serve them because of a pre-trial deal. He will be demoted to the rank of private, the lowest military rank.

He originally was charged with manslaughter in a case that became known simply by the name of the town - Haditha - where it took place. They were accused of bursting into homes and shooting residents - including children and the elderly, after an insurgent's bomb killed a member of their squad.

Wuterich was the last of eight Marines prosecuted in the case. The other seven were cleared.

Military law experts say it is difficult to bring convictions in such cases, because the Marines believed they were under fire in a hostile environment, and it becomes hard to determine fault for events that happen in the heat of combat.

A Marine Corps spokesman said that in his guilty plea, Wuterich accepted responsibility for the attack, and admitted that he gave an order to his troops to "shoot first, ask questions later."

In an ABC News report from Haditha Tuesday, survivors of the attack were dismayed.

Awis Fami Hussein, who was shot in the back, said "I was expecting that the American judiciary would sentence this person to life in prison and that he would appear and confess in front of the whole world that he committed this crime, so that America could show itself as democratic and fair.''