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Military judge to rule on future of Haditha case
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    SAN DIEGO — The fate of the prosecution of a Marine officer accused of failing to probe the killings of 24 Iraqis rests on whether a military judge finds a four-star general was wrongfully influenced by an investigator when he decided to file charges.
    The judge, Marine Col. Steven Folsom, has indicated he will deliver his ruling Tuesday on whether there was unlawful command influence in the prosecution of Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, the highest ranking officer charged in the case.
    Attorneys for Chessani say Folsom canceled a hearing on pretrial motions, saying he would only be addressing the issue of undue command influence.
    ‘‘He said it would be the only matter discussed,’’ said Chessani’s civilian attorney, Brian Rooney.
    It’s the strongest indication yet that the ruling could either end or significantly alter the prosecution of Chessani, one of three Marines to face charges stemming from the Nov. 19, 2005, shootings in Haditha, Iraq, following a roadside bomb that killed one Marine and injured two others.
    The ruling comes two weeks after Marine Gen. James Mattis took the stand — a rare courtroom appearance for such a high-ranking officer — to address Folsom’s initial finding that there was evidence of unlawful command influence in the case.
    Because of the judge’s finding, prosecutors had to show the general was not influenced and therefore his decision did not affect the direction of the investigation into the killings, the charges or the future of the case.
    Col. John Ewers, the military lawyer who investigated the killings and took Chessani’s statement, later became a top legal adviser to Mattis and sat in on briefings that helped Mattis make decisions about who would be charged.
    Mattis testified he never talked with Ewers about Haditha, although Ewers was present during a number of legal meetings where Haditha and Chessani were discussed.
    Military policy prohibits Ewers from offering legal advice because he also was an investigator in the case.
    Mattis referred charges against Chessani when he was both commander of the Marine Corps Forces Central Command and the commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton. He has since been promoted and serves as commander of both NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Transformation and commander of U.S. Joint Forces.
    After the roadside bombing, investigators say, Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich and a squad member shot five men by a car at the scene. Wuterich then allegedly ordered his men into several houses, where they cleared rooms with grenades and gunfire, killing women and children.
    Authorities originally charged eight Marines — four with counts related to the killings and four in connection with the investigation. Charges against all but three were dropped and one of those charged, 1st Lt. Andrew Grayson, recently was acquitted of charges he hindered the investigation.

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