Ex-Marine accused of Iraqi prisoner deaths is acquitted

Discussion in 'Modern' started by syscom3, Aug 28, 2008.

  1. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

    Jun 4, 2005
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    Orange County, CA
    Jose Nazario, charged in the 2004 killings of four detainees, was found not guilty by a Riverside jury. His case marks the first time civilians decided if an ex-serviceman committed a combat crime.

    By Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
    August 29, 2008

    Ex-Marine accused of Iraqi prisoner deaths is acquitted - Los Angeles Times

    A civilian jury in Riverside today acquitted a former Marine sergeant in the killing of four unarmed Iraqi prisoners in the battle for Fallouja in 2004.

    Despite hearing a tape-recorded phone call in which Jose Nazario appeared to admit to ordering the killings, jurors said prosecutors had not made the case against him. They also said they felt it wasn't right for them to judge a Marine's actions in combat.

    They found Nazario, 28, not guilty of manslaughter, assault and use of a firearm in the shooting deaths in the landmark case, the first time in the modern era that American civilian jurors have been asked to decide whether a former member of the military committed a crime during combat.

    Cheers erupted in the court when the verdict was read. One of the jurors had tears in her eyes.

    Nazario, who had been stoic throughout the trial, was in tears, surrounded by a supportive group of former Marines and former co-workers from the Riverside Police Department. Outside the courtroom, Nazario called his wife, Diette, in New York to tell her of the verdict, and all those around him could hear her screaming with joy and calling out to their 2-year-old son: "Gabriel, Daddy is innocent!"

    "Justice was finally served today," Nazario said shortly after his acquittal. "I want the same justice for every Marine, sailor, soldier serving in harm's way."

    Nazario was a probationary police officer in Riverside at the time that he was charged. The Police Department fired him. His attorney, Kevin McDermott, said he would now petition the department to reinstate him.

    The federal jury of nine women and three men deliberated for less than six hours, starting Wednesday afternoon.

    Ted Grinnell, a Navy veteran who was the only member of the jury with military experience, said: "There just wasn't enough real evidence. People heard the shots but nobody saw who did the shooting. That's just not enough."

    Another juror, Ingrid Wickem, a physical education teacher at Riverside City College, described the deliberations as very emotional. She said many of the jurors didn't think civilians should be judging the military.

    "You don't know what combat is until you're in combat," she said. "It's an extraordinary situation and there just wasn't enough evidence."

    Wickem said she hoped the verdict would send a message to the troops in Iraq. "I hope they realize that they shouldn't be second-guessed, that we support them and know that they're doing the right thing," she said.

    She embraced Nazario's mother after the verdict was read.

    "I watched her every day. I knew she was being tortured by what was being said about her son. I could relate to her," the juror said.

    Robin King, a nurse, said acquitting Nazario was the hardest decision she ever had to make. She said she had to pray about it. "This was a young man's life here," she said, "I just had a lot of questions that weren't answered. We all did."

    Asked if she had something to say to the troops in Iraq, King said: "Yes, tell them we love them and for them to just be careful."

    Sandra Montanez, Nazario's mother, said the last year has been very hard for her family.

    "I thank God for the jury and their capacity to understand," she said. "I feel vindicated not just for Jose but for all the men and women who run the risk of having to stand trial like this."

    This morning, jurors listened again to a tape recording of a phone conversation between Nazario, who was a squad leader, and one of his men.

    The recording, which was made by Sgt. Jermaine Nelson at the behest of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, was the last piece of evidence presented before prosecutors rested their case. Nazario's defense attorney called no witnesses.

    One of the former Marines said he saw Nazario standing over a dead Iraqi while holding an M-16. Another said Nazario tried to persuade him to help kill the prisoners, and a third testified that he saw four dead bodies in the house where the incident occurred, in the insurgent-held Jolan neighborhood.

    None testified that he saw Nazario kill the Iraqis.

    Prosecutors did not get testimony from two Marines who they had expected to be star witnesses. Nelson, who placed the phone call to Nazario, and another Marine, Sgt. Ryan Weemer, each refused to take the stand against their former squad leader.

    U.S. District Judge Stephen Larson declined a prosecutor's request to jail the men, saying he did not believe doing so would compel them to testify. Earlier this year, Larson had jailed Nelson and Weemer for refusing to testify before a grand jury.

    Both men face murder charges at Camp Pendleton in the same deaths that Nazario had been charged with in federal court. The two Marines previously gave detailed statements about the 2004 incident, which occurred on the first day of the Marines' bloody, 10-day assault on insurgent strongholds in Fallouja, west of Baghdad.

    When investigators began looking into the shootings after the Marines' statements, Nazario was no longer in the Marines and was working for the Riverside police.

    If Nazario had been in the reserves when the crimes came to light, the Marine Corps could have recalled him to active duty to, like Weemer and Nelson, face charges at a court martial, where the jurors would be military personnel. Nazario's trial marks the first time a former member of the military has been charged under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, passed by Congress in 2000, to address crimes allegedly committed in combat. Nazario was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in 2005 after serving eight years.

    McDermott said after the verdict that he thought Congress should rethink the law: "We just don't think we should put our troops through something like that."

    McDermott stressed to jurors in his closing argument that the prosecution offered no names or identifications for the four alleged victims. He asked the judge to dismiss the allegations on the basis that the government had failed to fulfill a legal obligation to prove that a "particular human being" had been killed.

    Assistant U.S. Atty. Jerry Behnke said requiring a name or identification could prevent prosecutors from pursing other cases of alleged combat crimes. Larson had said he would deal with McDermott's motion after the jury reached a verdict.

    Possibly the strongest evidence against Nazario was the tape recording made during the call between Nazario and Nelson on Jan. 8, 2007. In the call, Nazario seems to admit that he ordered the killings because he didn't have the time to process them under the rules established by the Marine Corps.

    On the tape, Nelson, using a derogatory word for the Iraqis, asked Nazario who gave the order to kill the prisoners. Nazario replied: "I did."

    Nazario went on to say their actions were not illegal. "You can't play Monday-morning quarterback," he said.

    In closing arguments, both sides stressed the importance of the decision for future U.S. soldiers and Marines in combat.

    "When all is said and done, your decision is of phenomenal significance to my client and others like him," McDermott told jurors. He insisted that a guilty verdict could undercut the morale and effectiveness of U.S. troops in war zones.

    But Behnke said an acquittal would mean that "as a nation, we have failed."

    "We are better than the people we are fighting," he said in his closing argument. "We follow the rules. We maintain the high moral ground."

    Although he had risen to the position of squad leader in the Marine Corps, Nazario had never been in combat until the Fallouja assault began in the early hours of Nov. 9, 2004.

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  2. ccheese

    ccheese Member In Perpetuity
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    Jul 10, 2007
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    Virginia Beach, Va.
    Good verdict. I hope this makes congress re-think the 2000 law that they
    passed. A civil court should not be prosecuting former members of the armed
    forces for alleged crimes commited while in the military.

  3. Matt308

    Matt308 Glock Perfection
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    Apr 12, 2005
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    "When all is said and done, your decision is of phenomenal significance to my client and others like him," McDermott told jurors. He insisted that a guilty verdict could undercut the morale and effectiveness of U.S. troops in war zones.

    'nuff said.
  4. pbfoot

    pbfoot Active Member

    Apr 14, 2005
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    niagara falls
    Your correct its not a civilian trial
    The loophole where by military justice cannot be meted out after a year from discharge that must be closed in some manner
  5. RabidAlien

    RabidAlien Active Member

    Apr 27, 2008
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    I love this part: "Ted Grinnell, a Navy veteran who was the only member of the jury with military experience...." Trial by a jury of his peers, eh? Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.
  6. lesofprimus

    lesofprimus Active Member

    Jul 27, 2004
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    Long Island Native in Mississippi
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    Feel sorry for the 2 guys who are going before the Military Court, cause they're now fully in the crosshairs...

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