But the Marines didn't believe his claim of self-defense. The charges of premeditated murder are based in part on Sgt. Daniel Coburn's statement.
Coburn, Pantano's radio operator, claimed in his account of the killings that once Pantano heard there were weapons in the house, he appeared agitated. Coburn said that Pantano seemed like he wanted to teach the insurgents a lesson.
The leadership styles of the two men clashed from the get-go. According to New York magazine, Pantano was tough on his men and hollered Marine slogans to motivate them while Coburn shied away from such zeal. Pantano got Coburn reassigned and "demoted" to radio operator after an incident in the field.
Coburn denies the demotion, but it does overshadow the allegations.
An initial investigation of the incident was cleared at the field level and Pantano continued combat operations. He returned to Camp Lejeune when his tour of duty ended, but the Marines continued their investigation. According to Gittins, Coburn pushed for the investigation to continue. On Feb. 1, the Marine Corps charged Pantano with at least seven violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, including two counts of premeditated murder.
"He loves the Marine Corps. He still respects the institution and hopes justice will prevail," said Pantano's wife, Jill Pantano, on ABC's Good Morning America.
Pantano grew up in Manhattan in a gritty working-class part of town called Hell's Kitchen. His father emigrated from Italy and his mother is a Kansas native who is a New York-based literary agent.
From an early age, Pantano could usually be found on the USS Intrepid, a retired aircraft carrier docked near his home, his mother said on the Web site she set up for her son's cause called "Defend the Defenders."
Hard work and financial aid landed Pantano in one of New York City's best private schools. Unlike his fellow students, he skipped college entrance exams and enlisted in the Marine Corps before his senior year. Pantano "wanted to make sure he would have a spot in the infantry when he graduated," his mother says on the Web site. At 17, he was off to boot camp and, two years later, Cpl. Pantano served on the front lines in the first Gulf War. He climbed the ranks within the Marines in record time, becoming a sergeant in less than four years.
"The greatest experience of his life was fighting a war," his father said in the magazine interview.
Back in Manhattan, Pantano graduated from New York University and joined a prestigious Wall Street firm. As an energy trader at Goldman Sachs, the former Marine raked in the big bucks but soon tired of the grind. He traded power suits for the casual offices of a startup media company. And a year later, at 28, he started his own tech consulting business with media giants becoming clients.
"Life was beautiful. He was planning to marry a splendid young woman," his mother writes on her Web site. But then came 9/11.
Within hours of the Twin Towers crumbling to the ground, Pantano shed his curly long hair and came home with a buzz cut.
"I am a New Yorker and 9/11 was a pretty significant event for me," Pantano said in an ABC interview while in Iraq.