November 26, 2014

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Former Marine charged with Iraqi deaths in 2004

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — A former Marine sergeant has been charged with voluntary manslaughter in the killings of two captured Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah in 2004.

Head shaven and wearing a black suit with an American flag pin on the lapel, Jose Nazario, 27, answered procedural questions before U.S. Magistrate Judge Oswald Parada. Bail was set at $50,000.

“I would just like to say, I’m a United States Marine who fought honorably for this country and I’m innocent of these charges,” Nazario said outside court.

Defense attorney Emery Ledger told The Associated Press before the hearing that Nazario was charged last week and will enter a not guilty plea.

Nazario faces 10 years in prison if convicted of voluntary manslaughter, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jerry Behnke. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for Sept. 5.

The Navy has been investigating claims that Camp Pendleton Marines killed between five and 10 unarmed suspected Iraqi insurgents who had been captured during a fierce battle in Fallujah, current and former Marines previously told the AP.

The probe centers on the actions of several former members of 3rd Squad, 3rd Platoon, Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines. Nazario was squad leader. Because he is no longer in the military, his case is being handled in federal court.

According to his attorneys, Nazario completed two four-year enlistments after entering the Marine Corps in 1997.

According to a Naval Criminal Investigative Service criminal complaint supplied by Ledger, the killings occurred Nov. 9, 2004. The complaint says several Marines, whose names are redacted, allege Nazario shot two Iraqi men who had been detained while his squad searched a house. The complaint claims four Iraqi men were killed during the action; Nazario is accused in two of those deaths.

The complaint states the squad had been taking fire from the house. After the troops entered the building and captured the insurgents, Nazario placed a call on his radio.

“Nazario said that he was asked, ‘Are they dead yet?”‘ the complaint states. When Nazario responded that the captives were still alive, he was allegedly told by the Marine on the radio to “make it happen.”

According to the complaint, Nov. 9 was a day of heavy combat during which one member of Nazario’s squad was killed.

Nazario was arrested Aug. 7 and placed into custody with the NCIS but released that day with a summons to appear, Ledger said.

Nazario’s lead defense attorney, Doug Applegate, said the prosecution’s case lacked evidence. A retired Marine colonel, Applegate said he had driven through Fallujah two years ago and does not believe the building where the crime is alleged to have occurred is still standing.

“There’s never going to be any bodies, there’s never going to be any DNA in this case,” he said. “All that’s being presented in federal court is hearsay.”

After leaving the military, Nazario was working as a probationary police officer with the Riverside Police Department and was close to completing his one-year probation. He was fired the day of his arrest, though Applegate suggested that Nazario would be taken back if he is fully exonerated.

The allegations against him surfaced when Ryan Weemer, a former Marine corporal, applied for a job with the Secret Service. Prosecutors claim Weemer described the killings during a polygraph test that included a question about whether he had participated in a wrongful death, said his attorney, Paul Hackett.

Hackett, a Marine reservist who has served in Iraq and ran for Congress in Ohio, has said his client did nothing wrong and never said otherwise during the job interview.

“Weemer, along with his fellow Marines, fought valiantly … through the hellhole of Fallujah, and ask for little more than to return to the lives they left behind with the hope and promise that defines America,” Hackett said.

Applegate said Nazario took two polygraph tests when he applied for jobs with the police department and with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. When asked whether he has committed a crime, Nazario answered no and passed both tests, the attorney said.

Weemer has not been charged. NCIS spokesman Ed Buice directed questions to the U.S. attorney’s office, where spokesman Thom Mrozek declined to comment.