US civilian jury acquits ex-Marine of Fallujah killings

A federal jury Aug. 28 acquitted former US Marine Sgt. Jose Luis Nazario Jr. of voluntary manslaughter and other charges in the first civilian trial for crimes allegedly committed by a member of the US military in Iraq. After six hours of deliberation, a jury in US District Court for the Central District of California found Nazario not guilty of ordering his squad to shoot four unarmed Iraqi men in a house they had just searched in Fallujah in 2004. In addition to manslaughter, Nazario was charged with assault with a deadly weapon and discharging a firearm during a crime of violence.

Because Nazario had left the military before facing charges, he was tried in civilian court under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act of 2000 (MEJA), rather than in the military justice system. MEJA gives federal courts jurisdiction over civilians who commit crimes in combat zones while associated with the US military. Defense attorney Kevin McDermott predicted the acquittal would discourage similar prosecutions.

Two Marines who served with Nazario, Sgt. Ryan Weemer and Sgt. Jermaine A. Nelson, have been court-martialed in connection with the Fallujah killings. Another civilian trial involving a former service member is scheduled for April in Kentucky, where former Army Pfc. Steven D. Green faces charges in the March 2006 rape and killing of a 14-year old Iraqi girl and the killings of her family in Mahmudiya. This week, a judge there ruled that charging Green as a civilian did not violate his constitutional rights. (Jurist statement, Aug. 29)

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