Marine acquited in criminal case involving Fallujah

Telegraph:

The Californian jury took six hours to find Jose Luis Nazario Jr. not guilty of fatally shooting or causing others to shoot dead four Iraqi detainees during fierce fighting in Fallujah, Iraq, on November 9, 2004.

The case marked the first time a former member of the US military accused of a combat crime had his case tried in a civilian court.

Nazario, 28, who could not be prosecuted in a military court because he had left the Marines, sobbed so loudly after his acquittal that the judge called for order. His family and friends also broke down in court.

The former Marine Corps sergeant was accused of shooting dead two of the captives himself before ordering two subordinates to kill the others during the 2004 storming of Fallujah, known as Operation Phantom Fury.

Prosecutors in Riverside County, east of Los Angeles, told the jury that Nazario had ignored rules about how to treat prisoners and ordered the execution-style killing of four "unarmed, submissive, docile" detainees.

They played a taped phone conversation in which Nazario appeared to admit having ordered the killings and urged jurors to convict him, warning an acquittal could send a message that the US condoned the killing of unarmed, non-resisting prisoners.

But their case suffered when the two subordinates, Sgts Jermaine Nelson and Ryan Weemer, invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to testify against Nazario. Both were declared in contempt of court.

Other former Marines testified during the five-day trial that although they heard gunshots, they did not see Nazario kill detainees.

The defence, which did not call any witnesses, argued there was not enough evidence to prove a crime had been committed and told jurors a guilty verdict could endanger US service members by making them second-guess their actions in combat.

...

Obviously it is hard to argue with the defense strategy since they got an acquittal. I think the argument that making the military second guess their decisions was powerful and correct. It will be interesting to see what happens to the two Marines who refused to testify. It looks like they are likely to get more punishment than the accused.

The LA Times has a good story on the jurors' reaction to the trial. They all seemed to agree with the defense attorney on second guessing Marines in combat.

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