MILITARY: Attorney wants charges dropped against third Fallujah defendant

Citing acquittals, attorney says Marine Corps end prosecution of Sgt. Jermaine Nelson

The North County Times
April 10, 2009
by Mark Walker

The attorney for the third and final Marine charged with killing an unarmed insurgent in Iraq says prosecutors should heed the acquittals of two co-defendants and drop the case against his client.

Attorney Joseph H. Low said Friday that it makes no sense for the Marine Corps to pursue the case against Sgt. Jermaine Nelson.

"I am submitting that request to the Marine Corps," Low said. "The Marine Corps should have gotten the message loud and clear now that these cases should never have been brought."

Nelson is charged with murder and dereliction of duty for allegedly killing one of four unarmed prisoners that he and members of his Camp Pendleton squad captured during a battle for the city of Fallujah in November 2004. He has pleaded not guilty.

On Thursday, Sgt. Ryan Weemer was acquitted by a jury of eight Marine officers on identical charges.

In August, Weemer and Nelson's squad leader at Fallujah, former Marine Sgt. Jose L. Nazario Jr., was acquitted on two counts of manslaughter by a civilian jury that heard his case in U.S. District Court in Riverside. Nazario was tried as a civilian because he had left the Marine Corps and was not subject to recall into the service.

Low said that Nelson, 26, was elated with Weemer's acquittal following a six-day trial.

"He was very excited for him," Low said. "He loves Ryan and he's just very, very happy for him."

Nelson remains on duty at Camp Pendleton pending resolution of his case. His trial date has not been set, but is expected to take place soon if the Marine Corps rejects Low's plea to drop the case.

A Marine Corps spokesman, Lt. Col. David Griesmer, said Friday that there is no change in the status of Nelson's case.

Nelson was on his second combat tour in Iraq when the Fallujah killings occurred.

Weemer first disclosed the incident during a job interview, telling an investigator about the capture of four suspected insurgents and revealing that they were ultimately shot even though none was armed.

His defense was that the man he was guarding lunged for his gun, prompting him to shoot in self-defense.

Jurors who decided Nazario's case said that they did not believe it was their place to second-guess actions that took place in battle.

Prosecutors had no autopsy reports, no bodies, no names to attach to the victims and no witnesses. Their case was built entirely on statements from the three defendants.

Low said Nelson is a quality Marine who overcame a difficult childhood to join the service and achieve the rank of sergeant.

"This is a kid…who never met his father and found his mother dead of a drug overdose at age 8," Low said. "He was then passed around from friend to friend and pretty much grew up on his own."

His life turned around when a lacrosse coach in Connecticut took him under his wing, Low said.

Nelson was so eager to join the Marine Corps after leaving high school that he requested and won approval to get on a plane for boot camp within hours of being accepted into the service, Low said.

Besides preparing a formal request for the Marine Corps to drop the case against Nelson, Low also is circulating a petition citing the two acquittals and arguing that continuing the prosecution "may only serve to erode the credibility of the military justice system."

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