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August 28, 2008

Marine Acquitted in Civilian Trial for Alleged Crimes Committed While In Iraq

The jury returned a verdict after six hours of deliberation.

Jose Nazario Jr. was accused of killing four prisoners in Fallujah in 2004. Following his honorable discharge (with a medal of valor) in 2005, an overzealous NCIS investigator recommended to prosecutors in the U.S. that Nazario be charged with murder.

The defence, which did not call any witnesses, argued there was not enough evidence to prove a crime had been committed and told jurors a guilty verdict could endanger US service members by making them second-guess their actions in combat.

Nazario, who did not testify, was found not guilty of all charges, including manslaughter, assault with a deadly weapon and use of a firearm. If convicted, he could have faced 10 years in prison.

One of the jurors speaking after the verdict was read said the panel acquitted him because there was not enough evidence.

The Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act which was passed in 2000 and amended in 2004 allows the prosecution of service members in civilian courts. Of course, wartime combat is just like the sort of things that civilian juries are used to dealing with.

This case, the first of its kind, shows just how pointless the MEJA is when applied in this manner. It was originally supposed to be used to prosecute the crimes of overseas contractors, though it was expanded to include the crimes of servicemembers. In effect it serves as little more than a vehicle for harassment of our military men and women because collecting evidence of guilt in a warzone is next to impossible. The things we take for granted in civilian prosecutions like crime scene investigations and evidentiary chains-of-custody are largely impossible in a warzone. The prosecution had problem with witnesses; Nazario's fellow Marines were reluctant to rat on him, despite the contempt charges they now face.

When you get down to it, the prosecution's case was practically impossible from the start. Nazario was charged with manslaughter, assault with a dangerous weapon, and using a firearm during a violent crime. Only...the prosecution had no bodies, no location, no bullets (or bullet casings), in fact no guns. Essentially, the whole case relied on a taped phone conversation and the hope that Nazario's fellow Marines would roll over on him.

Jury didn't buy it. Oorah.

Also: Blackfive has been following this story closely and has many more details about how it unfolded.

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 07:49 PM

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