The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

September 26, 2008

Murtha sued over remarks

In May 2006, six months after 24 people were killed in a small Iraqi town, U.S. Rep. John Murtha made a startling accusation.

American soldiers, he contended, had killed innocent civilians “in cold blood.”

Now, less than six weeks before the longtime Johnstown Democrat is up for re-election, a Marine involved in the now-infamous Haditha incident is suing Murtha for slander.

Justin Sharratt of Canonsburg, Washington County, left the Marine Corps last year. But he claims Murtha’s statements have caused “permanent, irreversible damage to his reputation.”

“What Murtha did is outrageous, and I am seeking punitive damages,” said Noah Geary, a Pittsburgh attorney representing Sharratt.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday in federal court in Pittsburgh.

It includes Murtha’s statements from nationally televised interviews in 2006, including an exchange during a CNN interview with anchor Wolf Blitzer.

“There was an (improvised explosive device) attack, it killed one Marine, and then they overreacted and killed a number of civilians without anybody firing at them,” Murtha told Blitzer.

“That’s what you’re going to find out.”

At this point, though, seven of the eight servicemen charged in the incident have been cleared.

Geary said Sharratt was charged with three counts of unpremeditated murder but later was exonerated.

Sharratt, 24, was honorably discharged from the Marines, Geary said.

The lawsuit claims Murtha violated Sharratt’s constitutional rights to presumption of innocence and due process of law.

While Geary acknowledged that the congressman never mentioned his client by name, he said media reports did identify Sharratt. And the effects have been long-lasting, the attorney said.

“People see that on TV,” Geary said. “It becomes truth – it becomes a fact.”

He added that “Justin has had people approach him, giving him a hard time” in reference to Haditha.

And the suit says Sharratt has lost “significant employment opportunities” and “significant associational opportunities.”

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