[JURIST] A US Marine invoked his right to defer his plea at his Friday military arraignment [USMC press release] on charges stemming from the killings of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha [USMC timeline; JURIST news archive] in November 2005. A lawyer for Lt. Col. Jeffrey R. Chessani [JURIST news archive] did say that he planned to plead not guilty. Trial has been scheduled for April 28. Chessani faces court-martial for dereliction of duty and violation of a lawful order based on the allegations that he failed to properly investigate shootings, and could serve three years in prison if convicted on all counts. AP has more.
Chessani, the former commander of the Third Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment [official website], did not order an immediate investigation into the deaths because he did not suspect any wrongdoing. In a sworn statement made to military investigators, Chessani said that he did not see any cause for alarm and that he believed at the time that killings followed a complex attack by insurgents attempting to lure Marines into shooting into homes where civilians were located. It has been alleged that the civilians were murdered in cold blood [JURIST report], but Chessani said that when he first learned of allegations that the civilians were killed intentionally he thought that the claims were baseless. On Tuesday, Lance Cpl. Stephen B. Tatum [advocacy profile], who served under Chessani, also declined to enter a plea [JURIST report] during his arraignment. Tatum faces a maximum of 19 years in prison if found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment, and aggravated assault charges. Related charges [text] against four servicemen have been dropped.