By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Jury acquits former Marine in killing of Iraqis
Placeholder Image
    RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Jurors wept and embraced former Marine Jose Luis Nazario Jr. after acquitting him of voluntary manslaughter in the killings of unarmed Iraqi detainees during a fierce 2004 battle.
    Tears rolled down Nazario’s cheeks and courtroom spectators openly sobbed and cheered Thursday. He is the first U.S. veteran tried by a civilian court for alleged actions in combat.
    ‘‘It’s been a long, hard year for my family,’’ Nazario said outside the courtroom. ‘‘I need a moment to catch my breath and try to get my life back together.’’
    Jurors took less than six hours over two days to find the former sergeant not guilty of charges that he killed or caused others to kill four detainees in Fallujah, Iraq, on Nov. 9, 2004. The detainees were shot during a battle — marked by house-to-house fighting — that was considered one of the fiercest of the Iraq war.
    Nazario had been charged with voluntary manslaughter, assault with a deadly weapon and discharging a firearm during a crime of violence. He could have faced more than 10 years in prison if found guilty.
    Prosecutors had urged the jury to convict Nazario, saying he violated his duty as a Marine and must be held accountable for his actions in Fallujah.
    Juror Ted Grinell said the panel acquitted Nazario because no witnesses testified to actually seeing the shootings and there was ‘‘not enough evidence to point that he was guilty.’’
    Jury forewoman Ingrid Wicken said the panel was not making a statement with its verdict, but added: ‘‘I think you don’t know what goes on in combat until you are in combat.’’
    Minutes after the verdict was read, jurors shook hands with and hugged Nazario and his sobbing mother, Sandra Montanez.
    Nazario’s attorney, Kevin McDermott, said he believes the verdict will curb similar federal prosecutions in the future.
    ‘‘I don’t think they are going to put on a case in the future with a lack of evidence,’’ he said.
    Nazario, 28, was the first former military service member brought to trial under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, which was written in 2000 and amended in 2004 primarily to allow prosecution of civilian contractors who commit crimes while working for the U.S. overseas.
    It also allows the prosecution of military dependents and former military service members accused of committing crimes outside the United States.
    His attorneys did not call any witnesses. They argued during the trial that a conviction by a civilian jury would have lasting effects on combat troops, who might fear their actions could be judged long after they left the military.
    The case against Nazario rested primarily on the accounts of former comrades, including two of his squad members who have been found in contempt of court for refusing to testify in court. Other former Marines testified during the five-day trial that they did not see Nazario kill the detainees but heard the gunshots.
    The squad members who refused to testify, Ryan Weemer and Jermaine Nelson, are still in the Marines. They are facing murder charges in military court in connection with the shootings.
    Outside court, Nazario told The Associated Press that he had no ill will against the Marines who testified against him.
    ‘‘After all this, they are still my brothers. I wish them the best,’’ he said.
    Nazario said he wants to return to his job as a Riverside police officer. He was fired by the department shortly after his arrest last year.
    ‘‘I just want my life back. I want my life to be how it was before this all started,’’ he said.

Sign up for the Herald's free e-newsletter