Marine acquitted of murder in Iraq slaying
By ELLIOT SPAGAT, Associated Press Writer Elliot Spagat, Associated Press Writer 27 mins ago
CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – A military jury on Thursday acquitted a Marine sergeant on charges of murdering an unarmed detainee during battle in Fallujah, Iraq. The jury also acquitted Sgt. Ryan Weemer of dereliction of duty in the November 2004 death.
The panel of eight Marines who served in Iraq or Afghanistan got the case Wednesday and deliberated more than four hours.
Weemer, of Hindsboro, Ill., could have faced a maximum sentence of life in prison and dishonorable discharge if convicted of murder. The maximum sentence for dereliction is six months in prison and a bad conduct discharge.
In closing arguments Wednesday, a defense attorney said the 26-year-old Weemer acted in self-defense.
The prosecutor, Capt. Nicholas Gannon, recounted that Weemer said in recorded interviews that he shot the man and told a squadmate that he would have to live with that for the rest of his life.
Weemer also said in interviews that he and other Marines shot a total of four men in a house after their squad suffered its first fatality.
"I can't bring you an autopsy report," Gannon said. "I don't have one, but we have a lot of evidence that shows you beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused shot an individual in the chest twice.... The killing was unlawful."
The prosecutor told jurors they should convict Weemer of lesser charges of voluntary manslaughter or assault if they acquit him of murder.
During the one-week court-martial, the defense argued that the government could not prove Weemer killed the unarmed captive because there are no bodies, no relatives complaining of a lost loved one and no forensic evidence.
Weemer's civilian attorney, Paul Hackett, said in his closing argument that Weemer fired while he and other Marines were trying to seize a house from insurgents. He recounted testimony and statements of Weemer's squadmates that portrayed a confusing scene.
"This was chaos!" he said. "(The detainees) were not cooperating. If they're not cooperating, they're not under control. If they're not under control, they pose a threat to these Marines."
Hackett told jurors to be skeptical of a 2006 recorded interview that Weemer gave to Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents in which he describes shooting the detainee. He said one agent was an experienced interrogator who knew how to wear Weemer down.
"It is a very, very, very complicated, confusing interview," Hackett said.
Weemer told two NCIS agents that he was covered with the blood of his best friend, who had been killed by a sniper, just before his squad leader ordered him to kill the prisoner, according to a tape recording played at the court martial.
"I grabbed a gun and took him to the back of the house," Weemer, 26, said on the tape. "I shot him twice in the chest."
Weemer said he argued with his squad leader, former Sgt. Jose Luis Nazario, before complying with the order to kill the man, who was taken prisoner when Marines stormed a house on the first day of the assault on Fallujah.
"I definitely wasn't the type to disobey an order," he said.
Last August, Nazario was acquitted in Riverside federal court of killing two prisoners and ordering Weemer and another Marine to each kill one.
Another sergeant, Jermaine Nelson, has pleaded not guilty to unpremeditated murder and dereliction of duty, but his court-martial has been indefinitely postponed because of a flurry of last-minute motions filed by his attorney.
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