I've been blogging about the case of Ilario Pantano, the U.S. Marine accused of murdering two Iraqi insurgents, since it came to the attention of the media in February.
About two weeks ago, Lt. Pantano's Article 32 hearing ended, and investigating officer Lt. Col. Mark E. Winn began to review the proceedings.
Lt. Col. Winn has now issued his report. He recommends that the murder charges be dropped.
The credibility of the prosecution's key witness, Sgt. Daniel L. Coburn, seems to have been the central factor in Winn's decision. The Washington Times reports:
The 16-page report from Lt. Col. Mark E. Winn labels as "extremely suspect" the prosecution's chief witness, Sgt. Daniel L. Coburn, whom Lt. Pantano had removed as a squad leader weeks before the April 15, 2004, shooting.While Winn recommended that all criminal charges against Pantano be dropped, he also said Pantano should receive "administrative punishment" for shooting an excessive number of rounds at the two insurgents, some apparently after they were already dead. And it's still possible that Maj. Gen. Richard Huck could decide to ignore Winn's recommendation and hold a court-martial anyway. Nevertheless, Winn's report has to be considered a major triumph for Pantano.
"The government was not able to produce credible evidence or testimony that the killings were premeditated," Col. Winn wrote in his report, a copy of which was obtained yesterday by The Washington Times.
"I think now [Sgt. Coburn] is in a position where he has told his story so many times, in so many versions that he cannot keep his facts straight anymore," Col. Winn wrote of the chief witness.
"There is only one eyewitness to events that precipitated the shooting, and that is 2nd Lt. Pantano," he wrote in the report, dated Thursday.
A full copy of Winn's report is available here, in pdf format.
In an earlier post, I argued that there was no proof of Pantano's intent at the moment he started shooting. But later on, I began to suspect that the Marine prosecutors would be able to muster enough circumstantial evidence to overcome that problem. Apparently, they were not.