Time reported on September 17th that the charges could come “as early as next week.” They were a little off. Then they reported yesterday that the suspects won’t be held in pre-trial confinement, which they took as a sign that the charges wouldn’t be that severe.

They were a little off again.

Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich was charged with 12 counts of murdering individuals and one count of murdering six people by ordering Marines under his charge to “shoot first and ask questions later” when they entered a house, according to charging sheets released by defense attorney Neal Puckett.

Wuterich, of Meriden, Conn., was also charged with soliciting a corporal to make false statements and making another staff sergeant make a false official statement.

As many as eight Marines in all may be charged in the case.

I’m guessing this probably isn’t good news for Wuterich’s defamation suit against Murtha.

They’re not alleging premeditated murder so the maximum penalty is life. Charges are also expected against the four Marines Wuterich commanded in the house-clearing operation that day — Lance Corporals Stephen Tatum and Justin Sharratt and Corporals Sanick Dela Cruz and Hector Salinas — as well as two officers, Capt. Lucas McConnell and Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, neither of whom were there that day. The wife of one of the staff sergeants told Newsweek in June that discipline broke down after Chessani took over the battalion last year and some of the men took to using drugs. Others denied it.

I linked this brief NPR audio last month but I’m linking it again because it did a nice job of explaining the issues in the case. Newsmax claimed in June that evidence from radio communications and a Predator drone spycam would absolve the suspects of wrongdoing, but the Times reported a few days earlier that the photographs of the bodies and testimony of other Marines present pointed towards their guilt.

No word yet on a date for the court-martial. Will Wuterich plead out? Both sides have an incentive to do so but the pressure on the Corps to make an example of them will be intense, as will the pressure on Wuterich to challenge the rules of engagement the Marines had to fight under that day.

Exit question: did they hold the charges until Christmas intentionally, because they knew people won’t be paying as much attention?

Update: Eight Marines in all have been charged.