Exonerated Marine to sue Rep. Murtha
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One of the Marines cleared in the killings of Iraqi civilians in the town of Haditha plans to sue his congressman today for statements he says defamed him and other members of his squad.
Former Marine Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt, 24, of Canonsburg, will file a civil lawsuit against U.S. Rep. John P. Murtha, D-Johnstown, who was widely quoted two years ago saying that eight Marines carried out a cold-blooded killing of 24 civilians in the Iraqi town on Nov. 19, 2005.
Charges were later dropped against all but one of the Marines, with a military prosecutor calling allegations against Mr. Sharratt "incredible."
Noah Geary, a Washington County lawyer representing Mr. Sharratt, said his client will file suit today in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh accusing Mr. Murtha of violating his constitutional rights as well as slander for statements about the Haditha incident. A 1:30 p.m. news conference has been planned to announce the suit.
"He just held innumerable press conferences, just repeatedly kept saying this was cold-blooded murder," Mr. Geary said of the congressman.
While Mr. Sharratt killed three insurgents, Mr. Geary said, he followed the rules of engagement for combat.
The Haditha incident remains a political flash point in the Iraq War, with critics saying Mr. Murtha, a Marine Corps veteran of Vietnam, defamed American troops.
Mr. Murtha could not be reached last night and a spokesman did not respond to a message requesting comment.
One of the Marines at Haditha, squad leader Frank Wuterich, sued Mr. Murtha shortly after the congressman's first public remarks at the beginning of 2006. That lawsuit has been in abeyance as Mr. Wuterich remains the only member of the eight-man squad still facing charges in connection with the deaths.
Prosecutors accused Mr. Wuterich, the staff sergeant, of leading some members of his squad to attack Iraqi civilians as revenge for a roadside bomb that killed one Marine and wounded two others. The defendants said any civilians who died were killed unintentionally, caught in the crossfire of a battle that broke out with insurgents after the blast.
Mr. Geary said Mr. Sharratt shot three individuals later identified as insurgents.
In the year after he was cleared, Mr. Sharratt left the Marine Corps. His father, Darryl, said he telephoned Mr. Murtha's office more than 40 times seeking an apology.
Sometime last year, Darryl Sharratt said, he reached the congressman personally.
"He kept skirting the issue," Darryl Sharratt said. "This was right after Justin was exonerated and at no time did he acknowledge the fact that Justin was exonerated. He played the role of politician."
First Published September 25, 2008 12:00 am