CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (AP) _ A Marine facing murder charges in a squad action that killed 24 Iraqi civilians told a military court Thursday that one of the men he shot was pointing a weapon at him and that no Iraqis were executed.
Lance Cpl. Justin L. Sharratt gave an unsworn statement during his preliminary hearing on three counts of unpremeditated murder. Because it was unsworn, he could not be cross-examined.
His account followed testimony by a former member of the squad who said the Marines were not under machine-gun fire from insurgents when they carried out the Nov. 19, 2005, killings in Haditha. The claim runs counter to the key argument of the three Marines charged with murder _ that they believed they were under attack and responded appropriately.
Sharratt acknowledged shooting several men, including one in the head. He said that man was pointing an AK-47 at him.
``I am disciplined and always try to act professionally. On Nov. 19 I acted as I had been trained to do,'' he said.
``We did not execute any Iraqis,'' he said in a statement that expressed pride in his service in Iraq and in the Marine Corps, and he thanked his parents for standing by him.
``I'd rather be tried by a jury of 12 of my peers than carried away in a casket by six,'' he said.
Earlier, there was testimony from Trent Graviss, who was a lance corporal in the squad at the time. He recently left active duty and is not charged in the deaths.
``To the best of your knowledge, was there an ambush on your squad?'' asked prosecutor Capt. Christian Hur.
``No, sir,'' replied Graviss, who testified by telephone from his home in Kentucky.
The two dozen Iraqis were killed in and around several houses soon after a roadside bomb exploded and killed one Marine. Those charged have maintained the bomb was the start of a coordinated ambush on the U.S. convoy that was followed up with machine-gun fire.
The three men Sharratt is accused of murdering died in one of the homes. Defense attorneys showed photographs of four men who died there. All appeared to have been shot in the head, but several had blood on their torsos, indicating they could have been shot there, too.
Air Force Lt. Col. Elizabeth Rouse, a forensics expert, testified that it did not appear the men had been killed at close range.
The photographs were of poor quality, and in at least one picture it was not clear where the bullet entered the victim's head, though blood could be seen pooling in his ear.
Aside from Sharratt, squad leader Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich and Lance Cpl. Stephen B. Tatum are also charged with murder in the killings, the biggest U.S. criminal case of the Iraq war.
A fourth enlisted man, Sgt. Sanick P. Dela Cruz, was initially charged with murder, but prosecutors dismissed charges against him. Four officers are charged with dereliction of duty for failing to investigate the killings.
Both Wuterich and Tatum were in the public viewing area of the courtroom Thursday.
During a recess, Wuterich's military attorney Lt. Col. Colby Vokey said he was not concerned about Graviss' testimony, as it is inconsistent to what other witnesses have testified.
``All the other testimony indicates that the Marines were receiving small-arms fire,'' Vokey said.
Graviss also described the moments immediately after the roadside bomb blast, when he heard Wuterich firing his machine gun. Graviss said he saw a ``pink mist in the air where I assumed the people were, it was like a blood spatter in the air.'' Wuterich is accused of killing 18 people, including five men who were standing by a car.
Graviss said he went with Dela Cruz and an Iraqi soldier to clear a house close to the site of the explosion and detained two or three Iraqis but did not shoot anyone.