CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - A military jury acquitted a Marine intelligence officer yesterday of charges that he tried to help cover up the killings of 24 Iraqis.
Cheers erupted as the seven-officer panel cleared First Lieutenant Andrew Grayson, who was the first of three Marines to be tried in the biggest US criminal case involving Iraqi deaths linked to the war.
The judge, Major Brian E. Kasprzyk, admonished the noisy courtroom, saying: "There will be no more of that."
Grayson, who has maintained he did nothing wrong, was not at the scene of the killings of men, women, and children on Nov. 19, 2005, in Haditha. He was accused of telling a sergeant to delete photographs of the dead from a digital camera and laptop computer.
Outside the courtroom, a visibly emotional Grayson fought back tears as he said the verdict was an end to a terrible ordeal.
"It's finally time for me to get to be with my family," he said.
Grayson, of Springboro, Ohio, was found not guilty of two counts of making false official statements, two counts of trying to fraudulently separate from service, and one count of an attempt to deceive by making false statements. He would have faced as many as 20 years in prison if convicted of all counts.
The killings occurred after a roadside bomb killed a Marine.
Investigators allege that after the bombing, Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich and a squad member shot five men at the scene. Wuterich then allegedly ordered his men into several houses, where they killed more Iraqis. Four enlisted Marines initially were charged with murder and four officers were charged with failing to investigate the deaths. Charges were dropped against five of the Marines.