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Jury scheduled to return in war crime trial

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — Court proceedings were scheduled to reconvene Friday in the trial of a major Iraq war crimes case, after a military judge excused jurors for nearly two days and asked lawyers to explore their options.

The judge's actions fueled speculation that a plea deal was in the works that could end the trial of Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich of Meriden, Conn., who led a squad that killed 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians.

But defense attorney Neal Puckett told The Associated Press late Thursday that he expected a full day of testimony Friday, with a squad mate and a forensic scientist with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service expected to take the stand.

Wuterich led the squad that killed 24 Iraqis during raids on homes in the town of Haditha in 2005 after a roadside bomb killed one Marine. He faces nine counts of involuntary manslaughter, among other charges.

Puckett said prosecutors also will show outtakes from an interview that Wuterich gave in 2007 to CBS's "60 Minutes." The trial was delayed for years by pre-trial wrangling between the defense and prosecution, including over whether the military could use the unaired outtakes. Prosecutors eventually won the right to view the footage.

The all-Marine jury at Camp Pendleton, Calif., was excused after a lunch break Wednesday.

The judge, Lt. Col. David Jones, told lawyers after jurors left the room to explore their options. He called for the court to be back in session at 1 p.m. Thursday. But 30 minutes before then, military officials told reporters the jury had been informed not to come back until Friday morning.

Wuterich is one of eight Marines initially charged. None has been convicted.

Wuterich has said he regretted the loss of civilian lives but believed he was operating within military combat rules.

Prosecutors have argued Wuterich lost control of himself after seeing the body of his friend blown apart by the bomb.

The incident still fuels anger in Iraq today and was a main reason behind the country's demands that U.S. troops not be given immunity from its legal system. Those demands were the deal breaker in keeping forces there after the war ended in December.