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US civilian jury acquits ex-Marine of Fallujah killings

[JURIST] A federal jury on Thursday acquitted former US Marine Sgt. Jose Luis Nazario Jr. [defense website; JURIST news archive] of voluntary manslaughter and other charges [JURIST report] in the first civilian trial for crimes allegedly committed by a member of the US military in Iraq. After six hours of deliberation, a jury in US District Court for the Central District of California [official website] found Nazario not guilty of ordering his squad to shoot four unarmed Iraqi men in a house they had just searched in Fallujah in 2004. In addition to manslaughter, Nazario was charged [criminal complaint, PDF] with assault with a deadly weapon and discharging a firearm during a crime of violence. Because Nazario had left the military before facing charges, he was tried in civilian court under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act of 2000 (MEJA) [text], rather than in the military justice system. The MEJA gives federal courts jurisdiction over civilians who allegedly committed crimes in combat zones while associated with the US military. Defense attorney Kevin McDermott predicted [AP report] the acquittal would discourage similar prosecutions. The Los Angeles Times has more.

Two Marines who served with Nazario, Sgt. Ryan Weemer and Sgt. Jermaine A. Nelson [JURIST news archives], have been court-martialed in connection with the Fallujah killings. Another civilian trial involving a former service member is scheduled for April [JURIST report] in Kentucky, where former Army Pfc. Steven D. Green [JURIST news archive] faces charges in the March 2006 rape and killing of a 14-year old Iraqi girl [JURIST news archive] and the killings of her family in Mahmudiya. This week, a judge there ruled [JURIST report] that charging Green as a civilian did not violate his constitutional rights.

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