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Family stands by Marine accused in Iraq incident
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


November 24, 2006
Friday PM

Growing up in Western Pennsylvania and later in Granger, Ind., Justin Sharratt had one career goal: to be a U.S. Marine.

He wore camouflage military-style clothing every chance he got. Starting in his sophomore year, he hung out with recruiters.

"We're not a (military) family. We think he was born that way," said his mother, Theresa Sharratt, 50, of Canonsburg, Pa. "We tried to bribe him (not to go) with a car the night before he was to leave, but he said, 'No, this is what I want to do.' "




Now, his military career and his future depend on the findings of an investigation into the controversial slayings of two-dozen Iraqi civilians a year ago this week.

Lance Cpl. Sharratt, 22, is one of several members of 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, who remain under investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) following the deaths in Haditha on Nov. 19, 2005.

Some media reports have indicated that enraged Marines committed the slayings in retaliation after seeing a buddy die in the explosion of an improvised explosive device.

Sharratt's parents until this week have stayed so quiet about the case that even their closest relatives were not aware of it.

But as the identities of Marines who were in Haditha that day have appeared in recent news accounts, they have begun to speak out on their son's behalf.

Theresa Sharratt and her husband, Darryl, 53, deliberately have not quizzed their son for details of what happened that day.

However, in an interview Wednesday, Theresa Sharratt said she and her husband cannot believe the shy, patriotic young man they raised would attack anyone in a vengeful rage.

Their son has told them that he and the Marines with him "followed the rules of engagement," Sharratt said, and that is enough for them.

"We are so proud of him," she said. "We raised (our children) Catholic. He believes in God. He knows right and wrong and he has common sense. He is a good kid, he loves this country and he is my hero."

Justin Sharratt's attorney, Gary Myers of Washington D.C., said the Marine would not comment on the investigation.

But Theresa Sharratt said she believes the Marine Corps left her son and other Marines to fend for themselves in a highly publicized, politically charged situation.

"The Marines have forgotten them," Sharratt said. "It's a scary thing. He went over there to fight a war and now he could be charged with murder? Then they should charge everybody who went over there."

The investigation became public earlier this year when Time magazine, after conducting interviews in Iraq, reported that the killings were deliberate attacks, not the unintended casualties that the Marines had contended.

It gained further attention when U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., said Marines in Haditha killed the civilians "in cold blood."

Murtha, a former Marine who has advocated the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and who earlier this month won re-election, also suggested that the Marines tried to cover up the incident.

No criminal charges have been filed, but Navy and Marine officials are continuing to review evidence. Justin Sharratt is serving at Camp Pendleton in California, where he comes and goes freely, distributes sports equipment and occasionally assists recruiters, his mother said.

Theresa Sharratt said she first heard of the Haditha incident in an e-mail from her son last year. He told her there had been an "incident" and an investigation would follow. Should she worry, she asked? He said no.

"I just figured they had to check it out and make sure everything (was) by the books," she said.

But her son did not return from Iraq with the rest of his battalion in March. She learned that he and others who'd served in Haditha with him were not free to leave until April because of the NCIS investigation. Then the Time article appeared, followed by other accounts of the incident in Vanity Fair magazine and other media.

On the advice of Myers, Theresa Sharratt would not comment on the incident, but said she believes her son and other Marines who have said that they did nothing wrong that day. She said she believes investigators who initially were studying the actions of 12 Marines have narrowed their sights to five of them, including her son.

She does not know if he will face charges, but said he retained Myers, who is familiar with military procedures, to protect his interests. If her son is charged, she said her family will set up a Web site to generate support and attempt to counter news accounts that, she said, have included details leaked from an incomplete investigation.

Sharratt said she and her husband also are enraged with Murtha, in whose district they reside, saying they believe he spoke out during his re-election campaign without the benefit of firsthand knowledge. They haven't tried to contact the congressman or his staff, believing that could harm their son's case.

"When this is over and done with, that's another story," Sharratt said.

Lance Cpl. Sharratt is one of two children; older sister Jaclyn, 25, lives in Chicago. He joined the Marines on a delayed enlistment as a high-school senior and went to boot camp a month after his graduation in 2003. He saw combat in Fallujah during his first tour in 2004.

In e-mails and calls home from Iraq, the Marine told his parents of intense conditions during firefights and, later, of IEDs that "made it like you were in battle with a ghost," his mother said. She is relieved that he is out of harm's way in Iraq, but she and her husband are determined to help defend him.

For now, they talk with their son daily. He also visited them earlier this month.

"He seems fine, but it's a terrible, terrible feeling to have this hanging over your head and not know what could happen," she said.


Cindi Lash can be reached at clash(at)
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