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Federal jury acquits ex-Marine

Detainees died during '04 battle

By Chelsea J. Carter
Associated Press / August 29, 2008
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RIVERSIDE, Calif. - A former Marine accused of killing unarmed Iraqi detainees was acquitted of voluntary manslaughter yesterday in a federal trial, the first of its kind.

The jury took six hours to find Jose Luis Nazario Jr. not guilty of charges that he killed or caused others to kill four unarmed detainees on Nov. 9, 2004, in Fallujah, Iraq, during some of the fiercest fighting of the war.

The verdict left the 28-year-old defendant in tears. Nazario's family and friends also sobbed in the courtroom, so loudly that the judge smacked his gavel to call for order

"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."

The verdict marked the first time a civilian jury determined whether the alleged actions of a former military service member in combat violated rules of war.

One of the jurors, Ingrid Wicken, hugged Nazario's sobbing mother, Sandra Montanez, without speaking after the verdict was read. "I watched her all week. She was being tortured every day," Wicken said later.

Wicken said the panel acquitted Nazario because there was not enough evidence against him.

"I think you don't know what goes on in combat until you are in combat," she said.

Nazario's attorney, Kevin McDermott, said "I don't think they are going to put on a case in the future with a lack of evidence," McDermott said.

Prosecutors alleged that Nazario either killed or caused others to kill four unarmed Iraqi detainees in Fallujah during Operation Phantom Fury.Other former Marines testified during the trial that they did not see Nazario kill detainees but heard the gunshots.

The case came to light in 2006 when Sergeant Ryan Weemer, Nazario's former squadmate, volunteered details to a Secret Service job interviewer during a lie-detector screening that included a question about the most serious crime he ever committed. That screening was not admitted at trial.

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