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Marine is charged with murder in Fallouja death

August 21, 2007|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

camp pendleton -- The Marine Corps announced Monday that it has charged a Marine sergeant with murder in connection with the killing of an unarmed Iraqi prisoner during fighting in the city of Fallouja in late 2004.

Sgt. Jermaine A. Nelson was charged with one count of unpremeditated murder Thursday, the same day that a charge was unsealed in federal court in Riverside against former Marine Jose Luis Nazario Jr. in the same incident. Nazario pleaded not guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the deaths of two prisoners.

Both Marines were part of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Regiment. Nelson is still part of the 1st Marine Division; Nazario has left the Marine Corps and was a probationary police officer in Riverside when he was charged. He was terminated by the department the same day.

Prosecutors allege that Marines killed unarmed, bound prisoners rather than take time to process them as required by the rules involving captives. The Marines were given orders to rush to the defense of comrades pinned down during the house-to-house fighting, and told superiors that they had prisoners. An unidentified Marine then allegedly asked Nazario over the phone: "Are they dead yet?"

When Nazario said no, he was told, "Make it happen," according to an affidavit filed in federal court.

The affidavit alleged that Nazario, a squad leader, killed one Iraqi prisoner and then yelled to fellow Marines, "Who else wants to kill these guys? Because I don't want to do it all myself."

The Fallouja case arose when a former Marine mentioned the killings while taking a lie-detector test for a job with the Secret Service. The case is being investigated by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

Nazario was charged by the U.S. attorney because he is now a civilian. Nelson was charged by the Marine Corps because he is still on active duty.

The Fallouja case is the third set of war-crime allegations levied against troops from Camp Pendleton.

Seven Marines and a Navy corpsman were charged with kidnapping and killing an Iraqi in the town of Hamandiya in April 2006. Five of the eight squad members pleaded guilty and the three others were convicted at courts-martial. Only the squad leader, Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins, is still behind bars, but his 15-year sentence is being reviewed by Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis, commanding officer of Marine Forces Central Command.

Also, four enlisted Marines and four officers were charged in the killing of 24 civilians in the Iraqi town of Haditha in November 2005. Murder charges against two of the enlisted men have since been dropped, as have dereliction of duty charges against one of the officers.

--

tony.perry@latimes.com

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