The airmen's lawyers face a tough challenge: "Their early line of defense, with witnesses describing the optical illusion caused by a flying through a valley, has been pretty weak," says Thompson. "These guys were flying way below the legal limit in an area where they shouldn't have been flying, and they killed 20 people."
The court-martial against the Marine pilot and navigator involved in a deadly crash in Italy is no surprise -- but the dismissal of charges against the two officers who occupied the backseat of the EA-6B Prowler may spell trouble for the accused. "The two backseaters are responsible for situational awareness, and if it's been decided that they're not culpable, the question is whether they've agreed to testify," says TIME Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson. Their testimony could reveal what happened in the cockpit immediately before the Prowler struck a ski lift, killing 20 people. Initially, the four airmen stuck to an identical account of the accident, while a Camcorder found inside the plane contained a tape that had been erased. "The fact that the tape had been recorded over suggests there may have been something to hide," says Thompson.